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Wyvern - Worm AU fanfic

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Aug 4, 2015.

  1. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

    Feb 5, 2015
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    Wouldn't Armsmaster be informed about Shadow Stalker at once? About Miss Militia needing assistance because Sophia attacked her? APB-like?

    I mean, "This ward/hero turned on us and murdered PRT officers" is information that needs to be sent to everyone, at once. Otherwise, she might escape or kill some more.
    Scopas, Eryk, Prince Charon and 8 others like this.
  2. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Not too sore, are you?

    Nov 29, 2017
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    You forget that the entire point of forcing Taylor back to Winslow was so that she'd lose control and transform, thus "proving" that she was out of control and allowing Armsmaster to impress her into the Wards.

    He knew it would be a high-stress environment that would try the patience of a saint. Yet bullying victims are expected to take all that and just ignore the blatant provocation, and are not supposed to show the slightest hint of anger because "they are just trying to get a rise out of you. If you ignored it and didn't give them the satisfaction of seeing it bother you, they would stop."

    Also this kind of tunnel vision is typical in a bullying situation. What is unusual is that Sophia Hess is on probation while Taylor has a clean criminal record. Yet Armsmaster has labeled her the troublemaker and will try to fit the facts to that preconceived notion. The effects are typical, but the motivation is unique.
  3. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

    Jan 24, 2015
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    My assumption here is Coil is interfering.
    Because how many people can call Armsmaster directly rather then being routed through console and the rest of the chain of command?
    Or stop Armsmaster from receiving Miss Militia's code purple report?

    Edit: I also kek at Sophia's PoV. You are being accused of a crime by the police. Did you really think they were just going to roll over for you?
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Okay, minor spoilers, seeing as quite a few people have already guessed.

    Coil is indeed behind this. He pulled the strings to have Taylor nudged back into the school, and he sent Armsmaster an anonymous message to the effect that if there was a fire alarm call from Winslow, it was Taylor.

    Armsmaster just wants to recruit this new clearly-powerful (and getting more so) parahuman to train for potential Endbringer combat. Subconsciously, he feels he's owed something for the irritation and frustration he's undergone so far.

    Thus, when the call comes through, he basically ignores the code purple, because someone else is going to deal with that. His sole intent is to get to Winslow and recruit Taylor into the Wards. Right now, that's much more important.

    (The anonymous message literally came in via his superhero tip line).
  5. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

    Feb 5, 2015
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    Really? He ignores a ward turning cop-killer? I find that hard to believe. At the very least, he should have heard that it happened at Winslow, and that would derail the confrontation.
    Eryk, Chase92, Prince Charon and 6 others like this.
  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    As opposed to what he did to gain personal glory during the Leviathan battle in canon?
    Eryk likes this.
  7. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

    Feb 5, 2015
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    I'm not questioning that he'd try to press-gang Taylor into the wards - I'm questioning that he'd be so dumb as to miss or ignore that Miss Militia was attacked by Shadow Stalker at Winslow. He's too smart and too experienced to miss that.
    Eryk, Prince Charon, Ack and 3 others like this.
  8. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

    Feb 20, 2013
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    He's willing to break the rules when it benefits him, yes, but he's not the type to casually disregard them. Like, if Miss Militia's alert had come from somewhere else, I could see him pretending he'd never received it so he could instead continue on and arrest Taylor instead of responding. Or if, after receiving the message and realising the fight was probably started by Shadow Stalker, he might willfully ignore that conclusion in order to have an excuse to arrest Taylor - though you'd have to explain why he thought press-ganging her was still viable at that point; he's not stupid, and 'I thought she started it' might excuse an arrest but it wouldn't justify a forced recruitment.
  9. Necrovore

    Necrovore Not too sore, are you?

    Feb 24, 2015
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    Why would he know that? The fine details of what happened are the sort of thing covered in an after action report as all the paperwork gets filed.
    Right now the only thing that should be spreading around info wise is SS went hostile, and has been apprehended. Fire and medical are required at Winslow. Casualties occurred in the struggle. And that is basically it.
    Any more then that sent as messages right now is wasted time better spent cleaning up the mess. He wouldn't be called in because as far as the PRT and Protectorate are concerned it is just cleanup. Firefighters are the ones that now have active issues to deal with. Everything else waits for the reports to be filed and blame to be cast.
    Eryk, Ack and Death by Chains like this.
  10. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

    May 20, 2018
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    IIRC the only time in canon separate radio channels are used in the Protectorate are to appease Jack Slash's need for nobody else to help the Slaughterhouse inductees.

    I also recall reading he listens in on fire and police scanners, but that might be fanfic-sourced. If Piggot's not completely a fool she'll clue police in; if the police aren't dead then I expect they'll radio it themselves.

    Hmm. It doesn't seem anyone took a photo of the incriminating recorder-and-SSgear behind the locker, when before they were all on the ball about quickly recording evidence. Guess being Taylor is Suffering.
    Ack likes this.
  11. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

    Feb 20, 2013
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    To be fair, they didn't have much of a chance before the fighting started.
    Ack and Death by Chains like this.
  12. Death by Chains

    Death by Chains За родину и свободу!

    Feb 17, 2015
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    I’d’ve gone with ‘monomaniacal fuckwit’ myself, but yes, that was about my first reaction, too. [facepalm]
  13. Necrovore

    Necrovore Not too sore, are you?

    Feb 24, 2015
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    Don't know how they would set up the different radio channels between emergency services and PRT in this fictional setting, I was more commenting on what would be said on such channels. Communications like that aren't a gossip line or chat room. The point is to get immediately relevant information out quickly where it needs to go, and while SS going kill happy is certainly significant, she was also caught by MM before she even left the building. Functionally that part of the situation is now resolved. The important parts are getting medical aid and dealing with the fire, everything else can wait till the (literal) smoke clears and cleanup is started. Who did what is the sort of thing that gets put in a report, and if it must be shared with others would be sent through other methods like a morning email update sent to relevant departments, not over open air radio.

    As to the police reporting it themselves, again, not the immediate pressing matter considering she is already apprehended and there is an active fire atm. ...And I think they are still trapped in foam as of the end of the chapter so they can't call it in yet anyway.

    As to the chapter itself...@Ack You have Danny ask Taylor to follow him out of the room then he immediately sends her back to watch over MM?

    Edit: Hmm, forgot how to properly tag a user without quoting them...oh well.
    Eryk, Ack and MorDrakka like this.
  14. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    He needs her watching Miss Militia and Shadow Stalker, while still close enough to alert him if something goes wrong.
  15. Extras: Expansion of Chapter 17

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    I've added material to the Armsmaster section, and added another bit.

    here it is:


    Colin accelerated his bike toward Winslow High. He’d finally gotten the call that fire services had been requested at the school, which was his cue. If his mystery informant was correct, Taylor Hebert would be there, laying waste to the place, giving him the perfect opportunity to swoop in and snap her up for the Wards. While he wouldn’t have minded knowing who this civic-minded person was, and how they knew where the girl would be and that she was going to go off the deep end, he was also fully cognizant of the old saying about gift horses and mouths.

    After all, members of the public passing on information covertly to superheroes was a time-honoured tradition. No laws were being broken that he could see, save perhaps by Taylor herself. And if she was tearing up Winslow, giving him the opportunity to get her into the Wards, that would be a large feather in his cap … so to speak. The fact that she didn’t even want to go into the Wards wasn’t something he spent much time thinking about; neither would it have bothered him overmuch if it was.

    He’d registered and logged the Code Purple, noting that Shadow Stalker was involved. He didn’t know the Ward personally, having rarely worked with her, but he seemed to recall that she’d been a vigilante before entering the Wards on a provisional basis. Something about nearly murdering someone? He’d have to check the files when he had the chance.

    In any case, they’d tracked her down once, and they could do it again. But the crime was done and while it was a tragedy to lose men in the field, he had a more important situation to deal with. Winslow was on fire, Taylor Hebert was almost certainly responsible, and this was the opportunity he’d been looking for. She needed to be made to see that this was an opportunity for her as well, to learn the hero trade under a veteran such as himself.

    There were already others en route to Winslow, especially since Miss Militia’s second transmission to Console. Shadow Stalker had been captured, which was good; that meant he didn’t have to waste time on inconsequential details. Miss Militia being injured was a potential problem, but help was on the way so again he wasn’t needed to deal with that. She’d reported that members of the public were trapped in confoam, but they were also currently being freed by helpful civilians, which was good.

    She hadn’t mentioned the presence of Wyvern, which he was actually pleased about. He didn’t want anyone else getting the same idea he’d had, and poaching her before he had the chance to make his case. Oh, he knew she was technically a member of New Wave, but he was sure the Dallons and Pelhams would not want to be connected to someone who’d gone on a rampage and set fire to a school twice. They’d probably be pleased for him to take Wyvern off their hands and into the Wards program.

    Since the last outing against Inago, he’d become convinced that if her power built up with every new challenge she overcame, she might just end up being able to fight Endbringers. As Brockton Bay’s premier Tinker, he was just the person to train her for this; after all, he wasn’t the local leader of the Protectorate for nothing. And of course, having her as his protégé could only help his reputation as well as hers.

    It was for the greater good. For him and for Brockton Bay.



    Thomas Calvert leaned back in his comfortable office chair and indulged himself by steepling his fingertips just a little. He didn’t go so far as a maniacal cackle; he had some standards, after all. Passing the message to Armsmaster in an untraceable manner had been simplicity itself, and now he could sit back and watch the fireworks.

    It had been just as easy to pull the right strings and have Taylor Hebert coerced into returning to Winslow High. She was worried about facing her tormentors again, in case they forced her to Change to her draconic form in public? Calvert was very much a “let’s see what happens” sort of person. Especially when there’d be no repercussions to him.

    He hadn’t even had to keep back a safe timeline, in case it went wrong. No matter how it blew up, whether Hebert torched the school or Armsmaster tried and failed to recruit her yet again, the PRT and Protectorate would come out of it with egg on their faces, and he’d be golden.

    It really was a win-win situation, the type he liked the best.

    End of Part Seventeen
  16. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

    Feb 20, 2013
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    'X has gone rogue' is critical information that everybody needs to know immediately even if X has been captured already. Most obviously, there's the risk they might escape. Additionally, you don't want somebody not in the know seeing them in cuffs and 'rescuing' them, or reporting you as the traitor because they see you holding X prisoner. Also, it automatically puts everything connected to them under suspicion.

    '@Ack' is correct; it just didn't work because you don't have a space between the '...' and the '@'.
    SlickRCBD, Death by Chains and Ack like this.
  17. Threadmarks: Part Eighteen: No Sale

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:

    Part Eighteen: No Sale

    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    Shadow Stalker

    Being tased hurt.

    Sophia could've done without that knowledge, but she'd already acquired it months earlier when the PRT had captured her while out patrolling. Or rather, that was what she called it. The PRT apparently termed it 'looking for people to assault'.

    Which, she had to say, was highly insulting. She didn't go after just any people. That was what criminals did. Shadow Stalker wasn't a criminal; she was a hero. And the sooner people recognised the truth and started cutting her the slack she deserved, the better for all concerned.

    So what if they had a whole lot of rules designed to trip her up and make her look bad? It wasn't like she'd meant it when she signed on the dotted line, promising to follow all those stupid regulations. Emma had once told her anything signed under duress was legally null and void, and what was the threat of being thrown into juvey if not a whole shitload of duress?

    Still, being able to bluff the PRT into thinking she was pulling her weight and toeing the line and all the rest of that kumbayah teamwork bullshit had been … useful. All she'd had to do was bite her tongue and think happy thoughts about reaching the end of her probation when she was around Gallant, and she'd been golden. They needed her a lot more than she needed them, that was for damn sure.

    And so what if she felt the need to blow off a little steam when she was at school, and Hebert was the perfect target? If the wimpy little queef wanted it to stop, all she had to do was stay away from Sophia. Leave Winslow. Leave Brockton Bay. Fuckin' just take a running jump off a nice tall building; whatever it took for Emma to get over her once and for all. Sophia couldn't believe Ems had ever actually been friends with that dweeb, not for real. It must've been some sort of phase or something.

    Meanwhile, in Sophia's opinion, Militia had seriously overstepped her authority when it came to the way she dealt with the Hebert thing. Shadow Stalker had never punched or kicked Hebert, or shoved her in her locker, or done a damn thing to her. That had all been Sophia, acting as a civilian.

    Militia should've done her duty as a kiss-ass Protectorate member and protected Sophia's secret identity first and foremost. Sweep the whole fucking thing under the rug, give Sophia a rap over the knuckles and maybe a few weeks on monitor duty, they get to keep her as Shadow Stalker, nobody important gets hurt. But no, she had to let the lines get blurry and step in on the civilian side where she had no business interfering, backing up the stupid damn cops and letting everyone know that Sophia Hess was Shadow Stalker.

    And now Hebert now knew Sophia was Shadow Stalker. That was maybe the worst part. Wimpy, weakling Hebert, along with her stupid scrawny father (who actually cared enough to show up and support his daughter—shut up!) knew it was Shadow Stalker, a Ward, who had been tuning her up on the regular. In an ideal world, nobody would give a good goddamn about this, but in the last hour it had been made astonishingly clear to her that the world was anything other than ideal. Especially since they'd actually called the damn cops on her, and Blackwell now knew the extent of what she'd been doing.

    Which was why Sophia had decided to remove the witnesses from the equation. The Heberts, father and daughter, weren't anyone she'd miss. Likewise the cops; even when she'd filled that sergeant in on why it was imperative they didn't look behind the locker, the bitch had gone ahead and done it anyway. Militia and the PRT troopers were an active part of the system that had been holding her back for the last six months, so fuck 'em. Blackwell had only ever been a means to an end, as had Alan Barnes. Emma … well, sometimes sacrifices had to be made. Also, she wasn't sure how much she'd be able to trust the redhead not to roll over on her about this. Emma was a fighter, a survivor, but there were limits.

    It had been a good plan, too, for one that she'd come up with on the fly. Put down the PRT goons, set fire to the school, let it burn down and 'accidentally' kill everyone who was trapped in the confoam. Right up until Militia had somehow managed to get out and come after her. That was where it had all gone to hell, right there. She'd almost made it to the window, too.

    Being tased by Miss Militia, especially with a taser designed specifically to take her down, sucked giant hairy sweaty donkey balls. She was just glad she'd nailed Militia first. Gut shots were the worst. She'd read somewhere it took people hours or days to die from them, and it was painful as fuck.

    As muscular control returned to her, she stirred weakly. Her hearing was starting to come back as well; or at least, the high-pitched ringing in her ears was giving way to a steady crackling sound. The acrid smell of smoke gave her the clue as to what was wrong with that sound. Fire. I'm still in the fucking school. Fuck.

    She inched her eyes open, gradually becoming aware that her hands were fastened behind her. Cuffs? I can ghost right out of those. But somehow it didn't feel like cuffs. Every time she tugged at them, they tugged right back at her skin.

    "Don't even think about it," Militia said from behind her. "I've duct taped your hands together. Power testing indicates you can't use your power to get away from that. Go to shadow, and I tase you again. This time I might not let up. Just try me, Stalker. Please."

    Okay, that was bad. In fact, it had the potential to be really fuckin' bad. There was only one good thing about it. Specifically, Militia probably didn't know that Sophia could go into shadow and come out of it with her hands in front of her, duct tape or no goddamn duct tape. It just depended on her being faster on the draw than the Protectorate cape. So to speak.

    Of course, this required that Militia be distracted for at least a few seconds, something which probably wasn't going to happen. Even with an arrow in her gut, the Protectorate hero was still a hardass of the highest calibre. There was no way turn her back or let Sophia go just because. Which meant if Sophia was going to get out of this, distracting Militia was top priority.

    Carefully (because Flag Bitch might just have turned that stupid multiweapon power into a high-calibre handgun pointed at her favourite spine) Sophia turned her head toward her captor. "Just gonna say, maybe we should get out of here before we have that conversation? You know, so we don't burn to death or something stupid like—holy fuck, what the fuck is that thing?"

    Normally, Sophia prided herself on being cool, calm and collected in all situations. Her 'I am the night' persona wouldn't be nearly as scary if she let herself get punked out over the smallest thing. But when her eyes passed over the door Militia had kicked open and she saw amid the drifting smoke a red and gold lizard-like thing with a raised crest and partially spread wings, she lost it just for a second. It didn't help in the slightest that the lizard-thing was giving her the evil eye, or that it seemed to possess more teeth than the entire membership of the Merchants combined. So she could be excused for her momentary loss of self-control. At least, that was her story and she was sticking to it.

    "Wyvern." Was Militia's voice getting weaker? "New Wave's latest member. Surely you were briefed?"

    "Uh … maybe?" Sophia remembered sitting in for a briefing, but she hadn't paid much attention. Whatever the squirt and the others had been geeking out about over couldn't have been that important. Yeah, yeah, Inago went down, big deal. He'd be back. She'd actually been more interested in the text conversation with Emma and Madison over who'd blown up Hebert's locker. Good prank, great execution, but whoever it was had maybe overdone it a tad with the explosives.

    Anyway, so what if New Wave now had a pet dragon? Sophia didn't know it, and it didn't know her. When it had arrived in Winslow, and what it had to do with what was going right now, wasn't exactly something that was high on her list of priorities. Dealing with the Protectorate and PRT, now that they'd stabbed her in the back, was far more important.

    There was a rumble and a roar of flames, and a billow of smoke rolled in through the open doorway. Sophia coughed, tasting the acrid fumes at the back of her throat. Her eyes began to water. Fuck, I want to get out of here alive!

    The dragon-thing turned its head toward the noise, just as a near-inarticulate shout sounded from out of Sophia's direct line of sight. All she heard was, "Need a hand!"

    It looked back toward Militia and Sophia, then vanished into the roiling smoke. About thirty seconds later, there was another rending crash and what sounded like a scream, and in that moment Sophia acted. Flickering into shadow form and back out again, she reformed on her feet with her hands in front of her. The duct tape was still in place, damn it, but at least she was free to move.

    Militia tried to bring the taser up to shoot at Sophia, but the wound and the distraction slowed her down just enough that Sophia was able to kick her in the face first. While the rubber-toed sneaker wouldn't have done much damage, Militia's head bounced off the wall hard enough to put her out altogether. The taser went off anyway, but fortunately only one prong jabbed painfully into Sophia's leg while the other whipped past to fall short of the far wall. The tac-tac-tac did nothing at all.

    Brushing the prong free of her leg, Sophia snatched up the last of her discarded arrows in her still-bound hands and dived through the wall. Reforming on her feet once outside, she started away at a brisk walk, hands carefully manipulating the arrow so she could bring the sharp edge of the head into contact with the duct tape on her wrists without either slashing her own veins open or accidentally stabbing herself in the gut. Because while Sophia rarely got top marks in English, she was pretty sure that would be the definition of 'irony', right there.

    It was only when she was a dozen yards away, with the duct tape already beginning to part under the razor-edged metal, that she realised she should've finished off Militia before she went. The Heberts, father and daughter, she could hunt down at her leisure. Same with the cops and Blackwell. Emma and her father, she figured, could be persuaded to not say a fucking word about anything that had gone down. Barnes was a lawyer; he knew how the world worked.

    But if Militia said the PRT should hunt down Sophia, they'd fucking well do it. With everyone else, they'd dodge and obfuscate (she was fairly sure she knew what that word meant) and do everything they could to pretend that one of their Wards hadn't gone off the reservation. Militia, on the other hand, was a cape. She was part of the club and knew the secret handshakes. The Protectorate and PRT would listen to her.

    On the other hand, she'd been hit pretty hard by that arrow. The blood trail had been fairly impressive. Sophia had seen people bleed out from less than that, and those people hadn't been in burning buildings at the time. Also, if the veteran cape actually came to from that cheap shot Sophia had pulled, there was every chance she'd shoot Sophia on sight, given even one-tenth of a chance. It was what Sophia would do, after all.

    The last of the duct tape came apart and her hands were free. It was decision time. Go back and finish her off, or keep going? She dithered—the open space of the sports field beckoned to her—then took one step back toward the building. Fuck it, I'm gonna have to—

    That was when she heard the deep throaty rumble of Armsmaster's bike, coming in fast. Immediately, her threat assessment jumped to a whole new level. She'd heard rumours he was working on a lie detector for his helmet HUD, though whether this was true or just another Armsmaster story (like the one where he'd supposedly modified his halberd to ride on like a witch's broomstick) she had no idea. But either way, he had zero chill ("Why doesn't Armsmaster have a sense of humour? It wouldn't fit in his helmet, so he had to take it out.") and she really, really didn't want to go up against him.

    There was nothing for it but a strategic retreat. I'll get you fuckers later. Turning on her heel, she set off toward the sports field at a steady trot.



    Despite being the best-adapted for this particular situation, I felt remarkably helpless. The heat didn't bother me, and I had no problems breathing; even when the air seemed more smoke than actual air. But I couldn't grab the spray-cans of solvent like Dad was doing and use them to get people out of the containment foam. All I could do was follow his instruction and watch Miss Militia and Sophia.

    Behind me, I could hear Dad coughing—he'd torn the sleeve off his shirt and wrapped it around his face, which helped a bit but not a huge amount—as he sprayed down the mass of containment foam. Emma and her father were released first, because they'd been farthest from me and Dad; the cops and Blackwell were still in there somewhere.

    "Danny?" Alan Barnes coughed convulsively from the smoke. "What's going on? Where's Taylor?"

    "I sent her to get help! Get Emma out of here!" Dad was in full-on Dockworker mode.

    "Dad? What's that?" Clearly, Emma had just seen me. I turned my head to give her a good hard look. Yeah. Look at what you did. Something in my eyes, or maybe my bared teeth, made her give a little shriek and step back.

    "It's Wyvern, of New Wave!" shouted Dad. "Now get out of here!"

    They didn't need more encouragement; I heard their hurried footsteps receding down the hallway. Emma knew Winslow well, so they'd get out without any problems. I was more worried about Dad. The smoke couldn't be doing him any good at all.

    Then I was distracted as Sophia stirred and half rolled over. She looked directly at me and I gave her the same glare that I had with Emma. I'd taken quite enough shit from that lot today already, and I wasn't backing down from them anymore.

    It seemed to work. She'd started to say something that I couldn't quite hear because of the fire; when she saw me, her voice raised to a startled yelp. "Holy fuck, what the fuck is that thing?"

    Now, that was the sort of reaction I wanted from someone like her. She and her friends might feel free and easy about messing with me as Taylor Hebert, but nobody in their right mind messed with me as Wyvern. Without breaking eye contact, I curled my lips back a little more, just so she could get a nice clear look at all the really sharp teeth I had as the wyvern. All the better to chew you up and spit you out with, my dear.

    Unfortunately, I didn't hear the rest of what was said, but Sophia kept a wary eye on me all the same, for which I was obscurely pleased. Now you think I'm more than just a target for your bullying. About damn time.

    And then, of course, things had to go sideways. Dad had just freed Blackwell and was starting on the cops—three cans down, one to go—when there was a roar of flame and a sound like stuff breaking. When I turned and looked, Dad was recoiling from burning bits of ceiling that were coming down over the mass of containment foam. "Taylor!" he yelled. "Need a little hand here!"

    I glanced one more time at Miss Militia. She seemed to be still doing okay—I really didn't like the amount of blood soaking into her costume, but there was exactly nothing I could do about that. Then I went to help out with the fire.

    The bits of ceiling panel and wooden framework made me wonder if the roof was going to come down after all. For sure, they'd need to tear down this part of the school and build it all up again from scratch. Or maybe they'd just condemn the whole damn shithole and start fresh. I could see myself accidentally-on-purpose setting fire to other parts of it if that would help matters along. Mr. Gladly's classroom would be a good start. Nothing worthwhile ever happened there.

    But now was not the time for fun daydreams. Darting forward, I swept a wing up and around to try to bat out the flames before the burning pieces of debris could melt their way through to the police officers. That didn't really work, so I leaned up and forward, stretching my neck so I could grab the burning chunk of wooden framework with my teeth. Once I had a good grip, I pulled it away from the melting foam—did I mention that when containment foam melts, it stinks? It reeks—and tossed it to one side. Then I did the same with the pieces of ceiling panel that had fallen down.

    Seriously, did the idiots who built Winslow have to make everything as flammable as they could? I mean, sure, asbestos wasn't exactly the best thing to use in a school, but there were other options out there. Unless they hated kids. That was actually an option, I figured. It would definitely explain a lot of things about Winslow.

    I got the bits of ceiling and wood away from the foam, allowing Dad to get back to work with the spray-can. Whatever was in that stuff was like magic, making the yellow foam—now stained black with smoke—just plain melt into nothing. And not in a bad stick-to-your-skin way.

    "Almost done!" he yelled over the sound of the fire as he sprayed Sergeant Gainsford and the others free, starting from the top and working his way down. To my relief, they were all still alive and conscious, though their expressions when they saw me were more than a little dubious.

    Still, it seemed he had matters under control. I was just about to go back and check on Miss Militia when there was a rending crack from above. As if in slow motion, I looked up and saw that a lot more of the ceiling, plus what could've been bits of the floor from the next story up, were starting to come down. Dad had only gotten down to their waists; they were helpless against the burning rubble tumbling down on top of them.

    My wings were big, strong and relatively fireproof, but they just weren't big enough. I wasn't big enough. But I'd been bigger when I needed to, before. Lurching forward, brushing Dad out of the way, I raised my wings … and got bigger. Weirdly, the corridor seemed to shrink around me as my wings swept into place over the police officers like a red and gold tent. I heard a scream from one of the cops; I wasn't sure if it was because of the imminent danger or because the strange dragon-thing had just grown two sizes and lunged at them.

    Several chunks of burning wood and more bits of ceiling were now on top of my wings, which were resting on the cops' heads. I wasn't in any particular pain or discomfort, except from where I was holding my wings in an awkward position. Turning my head, I gave Dad an impatient chirp; hurry up and get them free.

    "Oh, right." He stared up at me, then at my wings, and shook his head. It dawned on me that this was the first time he'd seen how big I could get, in person anyway. He ducked under the shelter formed by my pinions and I could hear him spraying away industriously.

    One by one, the cops were released and slid out from under my wings, allowing me to lower them and let the still-burning debris slide off them onto the floor. Folding them back out of the way, I turned back to see what was going on with Miss Militia. And that was when I discovered that she was unconscious and Sophia was gone.

    Letting out a screech of alarm, I dashed forward into the room. Outside, through the window, I could see Sophia making her getaway across the sports field. But Miss Militia was right there. Was she dying? I couldn't tell. Turning my head back toward the open doorway, I let out another screech, trying to get Dad's attention. The last I'd seen, he'd been helping one of the cops who had been suffering from smoke inhalation, but I needed his help now.

    Leaning down over Miss Militia, I eyed her worriedly. She was still breathing, I could tell, but she didn't look good. Under her hand, her power was flickering from one weapon to the next, too fast to keep up. Drawing in a deep breath, I opened my mouth to let out a third screech. I needed Dad—I needed hands—and I needed them now.

    And that was when the motorcycle smashed its way in through the wall, Kool-Aid Man style. All it lacked was the Ohh Yeahh! sound effect, but that was made up for by the thunderous roar of the engine and the screech of the tyres as it pulled a one-eighty stop, knocking desks and chairs aside. Even before the bike stopped moving, Armsmaster had dismounted and pulled his halberd from his back. He pointed it at me, making it unfold to its full length in a gorgeous symphony of technological capability.

    "Step away from Miss Militia!" he commanded, speakers on his helmet amplifying his voice.

    My elation at seeing a hero on site died a premature death.

    Well, fuck. He's just gonna straight-up arrest me. Looks like we were right about him being behind this all along.



    Colin angled the bike to cut around a car, then accelerated just enough to get through the lights before they turned red. He was in the zone. Things were going exactly the way he wanted. Once he had the chance to speak with Wyvern and explain to her that she would be far better off in the Wards under his tutelage, she would understand.

    The threat of sending her to juvenile detention (if he had to use it at all) would only ever be that; a threat. A means to an end. There was no way he would really risk losing such a potential asset to the legal system. But if he had to bring it out, just to emphasise to her the severity of the stakes at hand, then that was what he'd do.

    He was a veteran superhero with decades of fighting crime under his utility belt. She was a teenager, the newest of newbies to the cape scene, with an unstable and unpredictable power. To his mind, the laxity New Wave afforded their younger generation was a recipe for disaster just waiting to happen. They simply were not ready to take on such a volatile powerset; there was no way they could plan for every eventuality. Not like he could.

    Winslow High School came into view. His infrared scanners located a hotspot within the building, with smoke trailing upward from it. Students, urged on by teachers, were straggling from the school, though by no means as fast as they should be. Some, it seemed, were wandering onward and leaving the school grounds altogether. He would've considered speaking to them about the benefits of a good education but from what he knew of Winslow, a good education was probably the last thing they were getting there. Besides, he had bigger fish to fry … so to speak.

    "Armsmaster to Console," he subvocalised. "What's the latest from Miss Militia on the Wyvern situation?" That there was a Wyvern situation, he had no doubt; it was what he'd been prepped for by the anonymous message, and why he was closing in on the school right at that moment. Besides, the school was on fire. How clear could it get?

    As for who had sent the original message, he wasn't entirely sure. His best guess was a Thinker of some sort, one who wanted to stay under the radar while helping keep the city safe. He was fine with that; if they didn't want the credit for his victories, he would happily take it. Every bit of good press he could garner added up in the eyes of his superiors, and further ensured that he would maintain his position as leader of the Protectorate ENE.

    "Console to Armsmaster. Miss Militia is not answering comms."

    Well, that was … concerning, to say the least. Hannah was as tough as they came. Even if she'd been injured earlier, she'd been able to capture Shadow Stalker and report back about that, so what had caused the change in status? He'd have to check on that, but a rampaging Wyvern was still a high priority, if only because of the potential harm to innocents in the line of fire.

    Blasting across the carpark, he ignored the slowly accreting bunch of students, as well as those leaving the grounds altogether, and altered course to circle the school. Gathering intel before jumping into the situation was a good idea, and he didn't feel like having to search half the school for his quarry. With a flick of his eyes, he told the bike to train its sensors on the building and report back on any large heat source. As an afterthought, he added in a command to ping Miss Militia's IFF chip.

    Bumping over ill-maintained flower gardens—the work he'd put into the improved suspension really paid off when it came to off-road travel—he swept around the side of Winslow. Another student caught his attention, most of the way across the playing field, and he sighed in exasperation. Did they honestly not understand that getting into the habit of ditching school would lead to a lack of motivation and advancement in later life?

    The momentary irritation was swept from his mind when his bike threw up an image on his HUD. A composite IR/visible light picture showed Wyvern within a classroom just up ahead. She wasn't breathing flames right at that moment, but some of the windows were open and smoke was pouring out. Farther back behind her, the IR sensors detected a serious heat source, on the order of open flame.

    And then, one more part of the image filled itself in. Clear on the wall-penetrating IR, slumped against the wall below the windows, directly in front of Wyvern, was a human figure. Pinging from that very location was Miss Militia's IFF chip. As he watched, Wyvern opened her inhuman jaws wide, sharp teeth visible even from dozens of yards away. Crap. Crap, crap, crap. She's gone off the rails.

    "Emergency entry," he told his bike crisply. "Expedite."

    "Emergency entry, roger," it replied in his helmet. He turned the handlebars and pointed the bike at a section of wall that didn't have anyone behind it, then opened the throttle. The bike did the rest.

    Temporary shields popped out of the bike to protect his face, arms and legs. With a sudden burst of speed, it popped a wheelie and accelerated toward the side of the school. Several other mechanisms disassembled themselves and reformed as a hardened penetrator on the front of the bike. Just yards away from impact, JATO packs engaged, literally blasting the bike up and off the ground.

    The shock of impact wasn't as jarring as he'd expected; just as with everything else, it appeared Winslow was shoddily constructed. Pieces of wall went flying as he smashed on through, the onboard gyros allowing him to touch down and keep control of the bike instead of taking a tumble. The instant the wheels were on the ground, he signalled an all-stop. Using a stunt he'd practised ever since he saw it in a movie, he stepped off the bike while it was still sliding to a halt.

    It was as bad as he'd thought. The corridor beyond the room was on fire; he could hear people coughing but nobody was calling for help. In this room, however, a blood trail led from the door all the way over to where Miss Militia lay slumped against the wall. Looming over her, teeth still bared, was Wyvern. His helmet sensors told him that his colleague was still breathing, but she was in a bad way. I have to shut this situation down fast, and get her to medical assistance.

    Without even having to think about it, he unracked his halberd. It was a newer model, upgraded from a spare since Wyvern had melted the head from the last one. This one was designed to be far more heat resistant, and utilised a new cutting head that didn't depend on plasma, just in case she was immune to heat damage. Not that he had any intention of using it against her, but the old saw about it being better to have and not need was as true as ever.

    "Step away from Miss Militia!" he barked, pointing the halberd at the menacing draconic figure. No matter how angry she might be, a dominant pose and a commanding voice should get through to her.

    After a moment, during which time he thought she might be about to attack him, she took several steps back from the fallen hero, then screeched at him. The sound clearly had meaning, but he would have to wait until he'd worked out the software before he could begin translating her various non-verbal sounds. It would be much more convenient if she could learn to talk at the smaller sizes rather than the huge one, but he'd have to wait and see on that one. Perhaps some careful coaching …

    He moved closer to Miss Militia, placing himself between her and the still-agitated Wyvern (not at her smallest size, he noted, but fortunately not as big as a minivan) and glanced downward. Just as his helmet recorded an anomalous data point—Miss Militia had been shot with an arrow, not bitten or clawed by a wyvern—a tall lanky man staggered into the room amid a new cloud of smoke. Dragging a makeshift mask from his mouth, the blackened and apparently scorched newcomer coughed painfully then gasped out, "Armsmaster, you idiot! Shadow Stalker did all this!"

    Shadow Stalker did all this. That one phrase wrecked all of his future plans for the teen hero. He stared at her, then at Miss Militia and the incriminating arrow. Well, fuck.

    When he looked up again, he was staring right down Wyvern's open gullet, at a brightly gathering glow. Why is she attacking me anyway? Wildly, he ducked aside as she made a noise like a cat clearing a hairball and a coruscating ball twice the size of his fist shot out of her mouth. It cleared his shoulder by perhaps a foot, and he brought up his halberd again. "You missed," he said uncertainly.

    She gave a derisive chirp and nodded toward the window. Turning, he saw that one of the panes had been shattered, and the bright spark of flame was rocketing onward, toward …

    … the sole figure running across the sports field.

    The dark-skinned figure, who was less than ten seconds away from reaching the houses on the far side and disappearing into the labyrinth long before he could get back to his bike and mount a pursuit.

    He had a sinking feeling he knew exactly who that was.

    The spark vanished, more or less at the running figure's feet. There was a sudden burst of fire, a crack of detonation, and a concussion that he felt even where he was. The fireball dissipated, to show the figure rag-dolling through the air. She landed hard, and didn't move.

    "Shadow Stalker." He knew it was the truth.

    She let out a satisfied chirp—even with no software whatsoever, he was still able to translate it as no shit, Sherlock—then nodded toward Miss Militia and let out another, more urgent chirp. Help her, dumbass.

    Well, that was something he could definitely do. "Bike," he ordered. "Dispense emergency medical supplies."

    He might not get Wyvern as a sidekick, but at the very least he was going to save Hannah's life.


    Taylor, Later

    Dad and I sat side by side on the back step of an ambulance, with blankets over our shoulders. From time to time, Dad took a breath from an oxygen canister. His cough was getting better, for which I was glad. Principal Blackwell and the cops had gotten it worse, and were being treated a little distance away. Emma and her father, having gotten out earlier, were sitting on the back of another ambulance; she was ignoring me and I was ignoring her.

    Personally, I was just glad Dad had had the forethought to pack extra clothing along to this meeting, just on general principles. It took a little sleight of hand to get me the privacy to change and dress, but we'd managed it.

    The first we knew of New Wave's arrival was when Vicky came in for a flashy landing in the middle of everyone. Not too flashy; she was carrying Amy at the time, so she couldn't do her classic three-pointer. But she definitely got everyone's attention anyway.

    Letting Amy down onto her feet, she headed in our direction while Amy peeled off toward the cops. I was glad to see them both; Sergeant Gainsford had been nothing but understanding and professional toward me, and she'd seen through Sophia's bullshit even while Blackwell ate it up with a spoon.

    Before Vicky got to us, Sarah Pelham touched down and let Carol Dallon out of her force-field bubble. They followed Vicky toward us, Sarah looking happy that we were alive and Carol just looking like a shark who wanted to tear someone in half. Or a lawyer; one of the two.

    "Hi!" Vicky greeted us happily. "You're looking better than I expected. Well, mostly." She eyed Dad's signs of battle. "How bad was it?"

    "Well, before we found out that Sophia Hess is Shadow Stalker, it was going fairly well," I said.

    That got everyone's attention. Vicky's eyes went wide and Carol drew in air between her teeth. Sarah blinked in surprise. "Should you be talking about this?"

    "She's not a hero," I said bluntly. "Nobody who murders four men and tries to murder nine other people is in any way, shape or form a hero. So fuck her. When we pulled her locker out from the wall—the locator beacon on the Decoy was perfect for that, by the way, Mrs. Dallon—it turned out she was using it to stash a spare costume and sharp arrows. She went kinda crazy on us, the PRT guys tried to foam her and got everyone else, she murdered them, then set fire to the school so we'd die too."

    Vicky nodded. "Well, that explains a lot. Um, I don't see Miss Militia around anywhere. What happened … is she …?"

    "Still alive, last I heard," Dad supplied. "Shadow Stalker got her in the stomach with an arrow. Fortunately, Armsmaster was able to get her fluids up again. They were talking about how she was stable when they loaded her into the other ambulance."

    "Good," Carol said crisply. "And the Decoy?"

    I gestured to where Armsmaster was still talking to the cops. "I think he had it, or something? It got foamed into the wall, and we had to leave it behind. We're not gonna need it to sink Sophia, but it'll be handy to get Emma and Madison behind the eight-ball."

    "Thank you. I'll be back." Carol strode away, on a bee-line toward the armoured hero.

    "Looks like you've had it rough," Sarah said. "So what happened to Sophia … well, Shadow Stalker? Don't tell me she got away."

    I grinned. "Nope. I sniped her with an explosive fireball at three hundred yards. Turned every blade of grass in a fifteen-foot radius to ash, blew her twenty feet in the air, broke half her ribs plus one collarbone and her right arm, and gave her a concussion. Also, first and second degree burns over forty percent of her body, and she's got no hair at the moment. None."

    Vicky's eyes flew wide open and she clapped her hands over her mouth. "Holy shit." Her voice was muffled, but not muffled enough. "Holy shit. You fuckin' wrecked her shit."

    "I would say 'language', Victoria, but yes, you are essentially correct." Mrs. Pelham tried to hide a smile but didn't quite succeed. "And as much as I am opposed to extrajudicial punishment, I would say that she very much deserved everything she got."

    "Who deserved what?" Amy strolled into the informal group. "Hi, Taylor. Hi, Mr. Hebert. Who needs healing, here?"

    "Help Dad," I said immediately. "You can pretend to heal me just for show, but I'm good. Wyvern resilience for the win."

    "And then we're going to find out where they've taken Miss Militia, and we're going to go fix her," Vicky said. "She got shot by Shadow Stalker while helping Taylor, so it's the least we can do."

    Amy had opened her mouth at the beginning of Vicky's little speech, but by the end of it she closed it again. Slowly, she nodded. "Okay, sure. Just as soon as someone tells me why Shadow Stalker shot Miss Militia, when this was all about Taylor and her bullies."

    I sighed. It was good that Amy was the last person we were going to have to bring up to speed on this little nugget of info. "Shadow Stalker—" I began.

    "—is Sophia Hess," Vicky butted in, then gave me an innocent look when I shot her a glare. "What? It's true."

    "Well, shit." Amy blinked. "That's … news, alright. So she's a villain now?"

    "Always has been, as far as I'm concerned," I said bluntly. "She just used to put on a costume and pretend otherwise. But don't forget, before she got shoehorned into the Wards—" thank you, Dockworkers gossip mill— "she used to 'pretend' with razor-sharp arrows."

    "Well, there's that too," allowed Amy. She placed her hand on Dad's shoulder. "Let's get that scorching taken care of, and clear out your lungs. Okay, done. So, what happened to Shadow Stalker? She get away?"

    Vicky's expression was brimming with mischief, so I rolled my eyes and gestured in her direction. "Go ahead. You know you want to."

    "Cool." She didn't even pretend to be reluctant about it. "So Wyvern sees her running away, right? All the way across the sports field. She could fly after her, but why bother?"

    Despite herself, Amy was drawn into the narrative. "So what did she do?"

    "Explosive fireball." Vicky enunciated the words with great enjoyment. "From three hundred yards out. Booom. Broken bones all over, first and second degree burns, a concussion and no hair left."

    Amy blinked again. "I say once more; well, shit. I am impressed. Also, a concussion means I can't heal her."

    Vicky raised her eyebrows sceptically. "Really? You can't heal any of that if she's got a concussion?"

    If I didn't know Amy was spouting the purest of bullshit, I would've almost been taken in by her innocent expression. "Absolutely. Can't touch brains, remember?"

    Dad also looked sceptical. "I'm not sure that's how you said your power worked."

    Amy smirked at him. "Hey, Mr. Hebert, it's my power. It works like I say it works."

    The penny dropped and he shrugged. "Good point. I'm no expert in these things."

    Carol Dallon returned to us, head held high, carrying both the Decoy and the remote. The former had suffered a little more from being foamed and then saved by firefighters, but it was still essentially intact. Having been in Sergeant Gainsford's custody for most of the incident, the remote was in better shape. At least, it looked that way.

    "All good, Mrs. Dallon?" I asked, getting up from where I was sitting. "Sorry about the damage. I did not expect ninety percent of that to happen."

    "It all appears to be still functional, which considering the money I outlaid on it, I'm not surprised." She gave me a tight smile. "I hear you acquitted yourself well today. Armsmaster had nothing but praise for Wyvern."

    "Well, that's good." I snorted with amusement. "Considering how he was acting like I was the bad guy when he first arrived."

    "Really." She turned and looked across at Armsmaster, who was just stepping astride his bike and looking in totally the wrong direction. All the same, he swivelled his helmet toward us, reversed his motion, and strode across toward us. Still holding the Decoy and remote, Carol folded her arms and awaited his approach.

    "Can I help you, Brandish?" he asked as he came up to us.

    "Yes." She skewered him with a hard gaze. "You can tell me why you set up the situation at Winslow to entrap Taylor."

    He tilted his head slightly. "I'm not sure what you're talking about. What situation am I supposed to have set up?"

    "You know what situation." Her voice was hard-edged. "Taylor has been getting bullied. You engineered a legal requirement for her to go back into Winslow so that she would be provoked into Changing in public, and you could swoop in and save the day, and get her into the Wards. Unfortunately for you, she didn't actually commit any crimes. Also, she exposed your corrupt Ward."

    This time he paused for a long moment. "I … may have been the target of misinformation."

    She didn't give an inch. "Explain."

    It was clear he didn't like being on the spot; not one little bit. "I … received an anonymous notification that Wyvern would go on a rampage at Winslow today. I figured I could be on hand to stop her …" He paused, clearly decided that he wasn't convincing Carol, and kept going. "… and make sure she didn't go into juvey. A power like hers is too versatile to be kept behind bars."

    "So instead you were going to stick me in the Wards, where I clearly didn't want to be," I interjected. "So much for free will, hey?"

    "I understand that you don't want to be in the Wards," he said carefully. "But I did not initiate the situation. Heroes get anonymous tips all the time."

    "You just decided to capitalise on it, and not tell anyone else." I raised my eyebrows. "I'm not exactly seeing you as the good guy, here."

    Again, there was a pause. "I can … understand why you would not. And for that, I'm sorry." These sounded like words he wasn't used to saying. "It's just that … you have such potential." In that one word was the first real emotion I'd heard from him yet.

    "And that potential goes where Taylor says, not you." Vicky shook her head. "Seriously, wow."

    Sarah Pelham stepped up. "I think it would be best if you went, Armsmaster." She shook her head. "And maybe think about where you went wrong."

    Wordlessly—possibly because he couldn't think of the right thing to say, and didn't want to mess things up even further—Armsmaster turned and walked away. As he did so, Sergeant Gainsford and the two other officers who'd been with us in the foam approached.

    Gainsford looked from me to Carol to Armsmaster. "Is it just me, or did armour-boy just get a brand-new asshole torn for him?"

    Dad chuckled, lightening the moment. "Something like that. Good to see you on your feet, Sergeant." He performed introductions around the group. "These fine officers were escorting Taylor when Sophia Hess went off the rails."

    "Ah, good to meet you." Mrs. Dallon extended her hand. "Carol Dallon. Any friend of Taylor's is a friend of mine."

    "Ahh, so you're the brains behind those devices." Gainsford smiled. "They certainly made it a lot easier to find the hidden stash. Things got a lot more fraught after the fact, of course."

    Dad nodded. "Yes, yes, they did."

    The one called Callan looked at me and frowned. "So, where did you get to when it all started happening, kid? I don't recall seeing you."

    "I got her free first," Dad said. "Sent her to call for help. Why?"

    Gainsford caught her subordinate's eye, and made a subtle slicing motion with her hand. "No reason," she said airily. "I'm just glad we got out alive, and that little psycho went down hard. I have to say, if it wasn't for Wyvern, I don't think we would've survived. Isn't that right, Callan?"

    Callan blinked. "Ah, right, yeah. Totally. Sorry, dunno where my brain went to." He gave me a nod and a smile. "Good to see you got out okay. Stay safe, alright?"

    "I'll definitely do that." I gave Gainsford a nod of acknowledgement. "And thanks, for everything."

    "Any time, kid." She gathered her troops by eye and they headed off.

    I felt myself relaxing ever so slightly. "Okay," I muttered. "That could've gone a lot worse."

    Vicky nodded. "It totally could've. Mom, can you find out where they took Miss Militia? We need to go heal her."

    Dad put his arm around my shoulder. "Congratulations. You caught another supervillain."

    I leaned back into him. "Yay."


    Elsewhere in the United States

    "A dragon? Really?" Jack Slash turned the news up. "What will they think of next?"

    Bonesaw leaned into the room. "What was that about a dragon, Mr. Jack?"

    He rolled his eyes. "Brockton Bay, one of my old hangouts. One of the local teams has apparently acquired a real live dragon as a member. Publicity stunt, if you ask me. Media vampires, the lot of them."

    Her eyes widened. "Oooh. Can we go see?"

    "Really?" Well, it was a good idea to keep his poppet happy. "I'll think about it."


    End of Part Eighteen
  18. Scopas

    Scopas Not too sore, are you?

    Nov 1, 2018
    Likes Received:
    Ah yes, very nice chapter! I was concerned that Sophia would be able to escape, and thus her arc would be drawn out further, but I'm glad she unceremoniously got blasted just as she almost got off-screen. Good show!

    And I'm glad that Armsmaster has at least apologized. It's literally the least he can do, but it's better than trying to throw good money after bad by dogging Taylor even further.

    And of course, Old Jack just can't stop watching the damned news, can he? He sure seems to rely on the networked talking heads for lots of his information gathering! I wonder if he's got a PHO account too, so he can lurk in the wild mass guessing boards? It's petty, but I bet he's the kind of guy who'd really love trolling people if he didn't have the ability to make them bleed in real life already.
    Vhalidictes and Ack like this.
  19. Threadmarks: Part Nineteen: The Dreaded Slaughterhouse Arc (1) - Our Day in Court

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:

    Part Nineteen: The Dreaded Slaughterhouse Arc (1) – Our Day in Court

    [A/N 1: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    [A/N 2: I am not an expert on law courts. Please let me know of any glaring errors.]


    "Okay, just so you know, we're going to be doing things slightly differently this time."

    Jack Slash did like the sound of his own voice; but that was fine, because he was an excellent speaker. He knew it, and so did everyone else. The Nine practically hung on his every word.

    "Is this 'cos of the dragon, Mr. Jack?"

    That was Bonesaw, his favourite little poppet. Since he'd taken her under his wing, she'd blossomed into quite the murder-munchkin. In another seven or eight years, he predicted, she'd be stealing hearts (as well as livers, kidneys and other sundry vital organs) right across the country.

    "It is indeed because of the dragon," he confirmed, beaming at her. "Having done some research into her, I have concluded that she would be an extremely valuable addition to the team. Of course, she's very much into the hero schtick right now, which means she's going to have to be taught that heroes rarely win around us."

    "So what does that actually mean?" asked Shatterbird. "Bait her into a fight and just when she thinks she's about to win, I scream and devastate the city anyway?"

    Jack restrained the urge to sigh and rub his forehead with finger and thumb. Shatterbird was so fixated on using her power for mass slaughter that she had trouble thinking any other way. And while he had no real problem with creating a large body count, he preferred that it be artistic.

    Anyone could murder hundreds, after all. It really wasn't very hard. But to do it in such a way people could see the point in it, even when they didn't want to? That was what he called a win.

    "Yes, you will be screaming and devastating the city," he said. "Just not … immediately. We will give them time to wonder, to worry. Is it really the Nine, or perhaps just a hoax? And while they are wondering, we will be taking their newest and brightest, and forging her into a weapon against them."

    "And what about the rest of us?" asked Burnscar, forming an image of a flying dragon over her palm. "While you're doing that, do we just stand back and award points for style?"

    "Hardly." Jack looked at each member of the group in turn. "We're down to seven members, thanks to Cherish murdering both Hatchet Face and Mannequin for a place in our ranks after we'd already lost Winter. Wyvern is my pick for a new member. Once I've either got her under my thumb or disposed of, you may each approach your chosen recruits. But, and I mean this, only after you've helped me bring Wyvern around."

    Cherish pouted, probably because he'd singled her out. "I keep telling you, Hatchet Face was planning to come after me … oh, just forget it. So how are we supposed to help you?"

    Wasn't it obvious? He supposed it wasn't. "We'll take hostages to keep her honest. Basically, her friends and family. You will each engage her, and take her down to the point where you could have killed her, maybe even injuring her a little, then I will step in and give her a reprieve. From what I've seen, she regenerates damage between Changes, so you'll be able to tag-team her more or less nonstop. And then you, Cherish, will finish her off—so to speak—by inducing crushing despair, alleviated by me coming to the rescue once more."

    "By which time she should basically be eating out of your hand." Shatterbird raised her eyebrows. "And then the Prisoner's Dilemma?"

    "Precisely." Jack enjoyed it when they figured out his plans. It showed they were paying attention. "Once it's been established that she can't beat us, and she'll die if she tries …"

    "You give her a choice," Crawler said. "Her, or the hostages."

    "Of course." Jack grinned. "She'll choose to live, of course. They always do. And with her background? Once she murders the people nearest and dearest to her, she'll be mine, whether she knows it or not. Afterward, poppet, you can ride her dragon-form all you like while she scours the streets free of heroes."

    "Yay!" Bonesaw clapped her hands with glee. "I can't wait!"

    Jack ruffled her hair fondly. Even if she hadn't said anything, he probably would've taken the Nine to Brockton Bay eventually anyway. A potential recruit like Wyvern was too promising to just let go by the wayside.



    Two Weeks Later

    "Emma, your father has boasted about how he can make or break a divorce case on recordings that were taken without the other partner's knowledge. So, don't tell me about breaking the law. Now, as I said, I'm going to the cafeteria. You can follow along if you like, but whatever you say to me will be recorded."

    Listening to my recorded voice was always weird. Dad had warned me from the beginning; only those who did that sort of thing for a living were used to it. It didn't seem anyone else in the courtroom had a problem with recognising my voice, though.

    "Illegal recording is a felony." Emma's voice came across the speakers loud and clear. "If Taylor's committing a felony, we can perform a citizen's arrest and confiscate it."

    The judge raised his hand. "Stop the playback."

    Obediently, the sound technician clicked the mouse on his computer, and the Decoy recording ceased.

    Turning to look at where Emma, her dad and their lawyer sat—Mr. Barnes had at least been smart enough to hire a lawyer, just like Dad had—the judge frowned slightly. "Mr. Barnes, your specialty in law is divorce cases, I believe. Is that so?"

    I was pretty sure I knew where this was going, and so did Mr. Barnes. I also figured I was going to enjoy it more than he did. He cleared his throat. "Yes, your honour. It is."

    The judge nodded. "In your understanding, when a recording is made in this state, in a place where there is no expectation of privacy, when all parties have been made aware of the situation, is it illegal? Refresh my memory of that aspect of law, if you will."

    There was only one applicable answer. "It is legal, your honour."

    "Thank you. Now, given that Ms. Hebert was carrying around this monstrosity," the judge picked up the Decoy and showed it to Mr. Barnes, then put it back on his desk, "and was verbally informing everyone within earshot that they were being recorded, was she fulfilling the expectations of the law?"

    I could almost swear I heard Mr. Barnes grinding his teeth together. Or perhaps it was Emma, sitting beside him. The one person it would not have been was Madison, who was sitting with her parents away from the other two; she'd withdrawn so far into herself that she was damn hear invisible. Though I was pretty sure it wasn't Sophia either, mainly because she was still confined to a hospital bed with a video link to a screen currently being maintained by a PRT officer wearing a police uniform. He was under orders to ensure she saw and heard everything, but only let her direct queries through the lawyer that Alan Barnes had retained.

    For some reason, I'd thought the revelation of Sophia being a Ward would've put her out of reach of ordinary law enforcement. But to my surprise and delight, the decision had been made to try her for her civilian crimes in her civilian identity and for her cape crimes in her cape identity. No matter which way things went, once she got out of the hospital, she was headed for the iron bar hotel.

    I didn't want to gloat. Gloating was something Emma and her friends did, so I really didn't want to do it.

    But it was very tempting to give in and do it anyway.

    "Yes, your honour." The answer may as well have been dragged out of Mr. Barnes, though they would've needed a decently powered winch and a high-tensile cable to do it.

    "Hmm. So you would agree with me that Ms. Hebert was not actually committing a felony or any other type of crime by carrying that device, and that your daughter was entirely mistaken in saying she was?"

    "Yes, your honour. That is correct." That one sounded like he'd had to cough up a vital organ as part of his admission.

    "Thank you. We are in agreement that Ms. Hebert had not committed a crime, despite your daughter's misapprehension in this matter. Continue the playback."

    The sound tech clicked his mouse again.

    "No, it's—" My recorded voice was cut off by a grunt of pain, followed by a brief scuffle.

    "Stop the playback." This time, the judge turned to me. "Ms. Hebert, what happened to cause the sounds we just heard on the tape?"

    "Sophia Hess punched me in the stomach, your honour," I said clearly. "And then all three of them wrestled the Decoy away from me. Emma Barnes and Madison Clements held my arms while Sophia pulled on it. Uh, your honour."

    I saw Emma open her mouth to make her habitual claim, probably something along the lines of, "She's lying," but her father grabbed her arm and shut her up before she could speak, then turned and whispered to his lawyer, a Mr. Richardson.

    "Your honour," Richardson said. "May I make an observation?"

    The judge turned to him. "The counsel for the defense may address the court."

    Mr. Richardson took a deep breath. "We're listening to an audio file. Those sounds could mean anything."

    "Counsel, have you or your clients ever done any boxing?" The judge's voice was calm and measured.

    The lawyer blinked, then looked at Mr. Barnes and Mr. Clements. Both of them shook their heads. "Uh, no, your honour."

    "Well, I have." The judge squared his shoulders. "In my youth, I went into the ring a few times. I know the sound of someone taking a body blow. Continue playback."

    "What's that, Taylor? Can't think of what to say? Oh, well, you're a boring conversationalist anyway." It was Emma's voice again. I remembered the pain as her nails dug into my wrists. Those photos had already been entered into evidence, so I said nothing. There was a thud over the speakers—I'd been pushed against the wall—then Emma spoke. "You deserve to lose this. You deserve to lose everything."

    Laughter sounded out of the speakers, along with their footsteps in the echoing corridor. I'd heard this all before—Carol Dallon had played it back for me and Dad—but I was good with listening to it anew.

    "Is it just me, or is Hebert just too fucking stupid for words?" That was Sophia. "I mean, what did she think was gonna happen? We were just gonna stand around like stuffed dummies when she waved this stupid fucking tape recorder at us like a magic fucking wand?"

    "Yeah, well, first things first,"
    said Emma briskly. "Let's turn it off so we can listen to what it's recorded already, then record over that. My dad always says if there's not a recording of it, it never happened."

    Mr. Barnes twitched. It couldn't be a good feeling to be the subject of this much pure irony.

    "Sure, okay." Madison also twitched when her voice came on. There was a repeated clicking noise. "Oh, come on. I'm hitting the stop button, but the tape's still rolling."

    "Here, give it to me."
    Sophia's voice was impatient. "You're probably doing it all wrong." More clicking noises ensued. "Oh, what the fuck?"

    "Told you."
    Madison sounded quietly pleased.

    "Jesus fuck, Hebert must've bought the shittiest tape recorder in the whole fucking world." From her tone, Sophia was not in the slightest bit happy. "It won't stop, it won't rewind, it won't eject, it won't fast-forward, it won't play, it won't do a fucking thing. Except record."

    "That's if it is recording."
    Madison's voice was vaguely optimistic.

    "Always assume there's a recording. Dad says that, too." Emma sounded pessimistic enough for the both of them. "Okay, we've got to figure out a way to stop this thing running and pop it open to get that tape out."

    suggested Madison. "Run water over it. Once the water gets inside, it'll short circuit and stop recording. Then we can lever it open at our leisure."

    "Yeah, good idea."
    Sophia's tone was more upbeat now they had a plan. "Third floor. Nobody goes there."

    Well, I had gone there more than once to sit in privacy and eat my lunch, but they didn't have to know that.

    They didn't speak for a few moments, then as they were climbing the stairs, Sophia spoke up again. "Hey, Ems, is it just me or does that disgusting little queef Hebert just not know how to take a hint?"

    Emma's reply was slower than normal, probably more due to the stair climbing than the question itself. "I'm actually surprised she came back to school at all after the locker thing. So yeah, I guess. What's on your mind?"

    Sophia's tone was vicious. "I'm thinking she needs a real lesson in life. Tommy and Joe and a couple of the other guys have been making noises about asking me out. What if I gave 'em a roll of duct tape after school and told 'em whoever brought me the most impressive pictures of Hebert could ask me out?"

    began Madison, between panting breaths. It seemed she didn't have much cardio under her belt.

    "That's—" Emma said, almost at the same time, then stopped. "Mads, what's on your mind?"

    Madison's tone was almost apologetic. "I'm all for putting Hebert in her place, don't think I'm not. But a bunch of guys chasing someone like her down after school, with nobody there to tell 'em not to go too far? Guys, she could get seriously hurt." She stopped talking to catch her breath.

    Somebody made a rude noise; it turned out to be Sophia. I could almost hear her rolling her eyes. "Oh, for fuck's sake, Madison. Don't be a whiny little bitch all your life. What happens to Hebert happens because she was too fuck-stupid to get out of the way and go back where she belongs, crawling in the fucking dirt."

    "Yeah, yeah, sorry."
    Now Madison sounded actually apologetic. "Forget I said anything. Fuck her."

    "Damn right. Ems, you had something to say?"

    "Well, not that, that's for damn sure."
    Emma chuckled. "No, I just wanted to say to be careful about exactly what you say to these guys. If they get caught—"

    "They're track team, Ems,"
    Sophia interrupted. "Even if they get caught, who's gonna say a damn word? Slap on the wrist at worst, and out of detention by the time the next track meet comes around."

    "No, this is to protect us,"
    Emma insisted. "I mean, sure, go ahead with it. I'd love to see those photos. But I can help you word it so if they tell anyone else what you said, it doesn't come across as you specifically asking them to chase Taylor down with duct tape. Dad says that's how guys like Al Capone got away with most of their shit. Saying 'It would be great if' rather than 'I want you to go and do this'. Get the idea?"

    This time, I didn't miss the poisonous glare Alan Barnes shot at Emma, or the way she wilted under it.

    "Yeah, I'll think about it." Sophia didn't sound as though she would. There came the noise of a door being opened. "Here, hide the fuckin' thing. Okay, everyone in here, fuck off. Yeah, you and you too. Get the fuck out."

    There were a few voiced protests, but none too loud; nobody, it seemed, wanted to mess with Sophia and Emma. We all listened to the footsteps exiting the echoing bathroom, then there was the distinct sound of a faucet being turned on and water running.

    "Okay," said Madison. "Hold it under here." A moment later, the sound of running water overwhelmed everything else.

    "Stop the playback," ordered the judge. But instead of unleashing more comments toward Emma or Sophia, he turned to our side of the courtroom. "Mrs. Dallon."

    "Yes, your honour?" Carol Dallon was every inch the professional lawyer.

    "I was led to understand that the accused had dye on their hands which showed up under ultraviolet light, as did this device itself. Yet they ran water over it. Wouldn't that have washed it off?"

    Mrs. Dallon smiled. "No, your honour. I used an oil-based dye. It requires soap, water and a certain amount of scrubbing to remove."

    "I see." The judge turned to the sound tech. "Continue playback."

    The water continued gurgling in the foreground, while I could hear the buttons clicking again. I got the impression they were trying to make the water get into the mechanism that way. Eventually, they turned the faucet off.

    "Fuck!" snapped Sophia. "Jesus fucking Christ on a Tinkertech pogo stick! What does it take to stop this fucking thing recording? Stand back."


    "Whoa, watch where you're swinging that thing!" Emma yelped.





    Each impact echoed through the courtroom. I looked up at the Decoy, sitting on the judge's desk, with new respect. From the sound of it, Sophia had been smashing it into either the wall or the wash-basin bench with all her strength. The heavy plastic was chipped here and there, but that was all.

    The bell signalling the commencement of next class was clearly audible over the echoes in the bathroom. There was a pause in the banging, then Sophia swore. "Motherfucker! It's still fuckin' recording!"

    "We've got to get to class,"
    Emma reminded her.

    "Well, we can't just leave this lying anywhere. Someone might find it and give it back to Hebert." Sophia's tone was scornful.

    "Here, scrape the stickers off with this." That was Madison. There was a distinct click.

    "Wow, Mads, that's a nice knife. Where'd you get it from?"
    That was Sophia.

    Madison sounded embarrassed. "Picked it up after a gang fight. Kept it."

    There was the sound of hurried scraping, then Emma spoke up. "It's not working. It'll take too long to get them all off. We've got to go now."

    "Where are we going to put it where nobody'll find it?"
    asked Madison nervously.

    "Don't worry about it," Sophia replied in a confident tone. "I got a place nobody would ever look."

    The recording ended, and the sound tech looked up. "That's all I've got."

    The judge nodded in acknowledgement. "I believe that is plenty for the moment. I've already viewed the statements from the police department indicating that they found this device stashed in a hole in the wall behind Ms. Hess' locker, and this recording neatly ties a bow on that." He turned to our lawyer, a Ms. Castle. "Does the counsel for the prosecution have anything else to say about this matter at this time?"

    "Two things, your honour." Ms. Castle stood up. She had more self-control than I ever did. Personally, I would've been beaming all over her face at how thoroughly the other girls had sunk themselves by talking in front of the Decoy, but her mien was strictly by the book. "I have no doubt you will have taken note of the repeated indications of depraved indifference to my client's well-being as expressed in the conversation between the accused girls, as well as their explicit attempts to destroy this very evidence."

    The judge's voice was grave and measured in return. "I have indeed taken note of those things, but thank you for doing your duty and pointing them out to me." He then turned his head to address the lawyer Alan Barnes had retained. "Does the counsel for the defense have anything to add to this matter before I adjourn court for the day?"

    Mr. Richardson didn't look thrilled at being put on the spot like that, especially after the damning recording he'd been listening to. What went through the minds of lawyers anyway, when they realised their clients were guilty as sin? Did they keep fighting, knowing they were propping up a lie?

    "My client has grave doubts about the authenticity of this audio recording," he began. Even I could tell he didn't believe a word he was saying, but I figured it was his job to do his best for Emma and the rest. "It could easily have been pieced together from illegally-garnered recordings over the course of the year—"

    Ms. Castle stood up. "Your honour, the counsel for the defence is reaching, and he knows it," she cut in smoothly. "As the affidavit I have already submitted will attest, this sound file has been thoroughly analysed by experts in the field and found to be entirely genuine."

    "The counsel for the prosecution will kindly sit down." Without even looking at her, the judge kept his attention on the other lawyer. "Mr. Richardson, I have viewed the affidavit that the counsel for the prosecution has alluded to. It states, among other things, that the sound file could only have been faked with the explicit cooperation of each of the people whose voices appear on it. Kindly do not attempt to denigrate my intelligence in this way. Now, did you have anything else you would like to add?"

    "No, your honour. I do not." Mr. Richardson sat down again.

    "Very well. We will convene again tomorrow at nine sharp. Court is adjourned." He took up the gavel and banged it once.

    Dad and I got up then and headed out of the courtroom. Mrs. Dallon joined us a minute or so later, looking pleased with herself. Dad went to say something, but she shushed him until we were past some people carrying press passes.

    "So, when you said we don't talk to reporters," I said in an undertone, "you meant we don't talk to them at all?"

    "Only under specific circumstances," she replied, just as quietly. "And we try to cultivate friendly ones, because even the most innocuous story can become a horror-show if the reporter doesn't like you and doesn't care about taking soundbites out of context. If they specifically approach us, let me do the talking, but otherwise we're just a bunch of people walking out of the courthouse."

    "Wow." I was learning so much about how court cases went, and I was pretty sure this was just one tenth of what was going on.

    "Yes, wow." Carol smiled at me. "But I will say, you comported yourself well in there today. You said what you needed to say, then stopped. Far too many people don't do that."

    "Good." Dad heaved a sigh. "Almost over. Is it going as well as I think it is?"

    Carol essayed a cautious nod. "It seems to be, but it's never over until the fat lady sings. We'll find out tomorrow. Did you want a lift, Taylor? I understand you're going out on patrol with the children tonight."

    I nodded. "Yeah, thanks. It was Vicky's idea."

    "Don't be out too late," Dad warned. "We've got to be back here before nine in the morning, remember."

    I wrinkled my nose. "As if I could forget. Crystal says we'll throw in the towel at ten."

    "That's good enough for me." Dad opened his arms for a hug.

    I gave him one, of course. It was weird; we'd started reconnecting as father and daughter only after I got the ability to turn into a fire-breathing wyvern. Life was strange sometimes. "See you tonight."

    "See you then, kiddo." He watched as I got into Carol's car and fastened my seatbelt. "Be safe."

    "Always." I closed the door and Carol started the car. We pulled out into traffic, and I relaxed into the seat. Unless something went really sideways between now and tomorrow, the judge would bring the hammer down on Emma and Madison, and Sophia would have yet another set of offenses against her name.

    End result: they'd never bother me again.

    Plus, I was definitely gaining fame (the good type) as a member of New Wave.

    Life was definitely looking up.


    Danny Hebert

    Tyres crunched on gravel then whispered on grass as Danny pulled the car off the driveway and in alongside the house. He turned off the engine and sat for a moment with his eyes closed, letting the tensions of the day drain away. It had been a rollercoaster ride from the moment Taylor had shown up at the Dallon household as a dragon—

    Wyvern, he corrected himself. She prefers to be called a wyvern.

    —but since then life had been more up than down. New Wave was a great team with lots of support, and Taylor herself was doing well as a hero.

    With a grunt more for effect than actually required, he climbed out of the car and popped the trunk, then closed the door and locked it. Going to the back of the car, he opened the trunk and took out several shopping bags—court cases came and went, but life was a constant—then slammed the lid shut.

    He didn't want to deal with that front step right now, so he walked around to the back, juggling the keys as he went. His thoughts were elsewhere so that he had the key in the lock and was turning it before he realised the lock wasn't engaged and that the door was opening freely.

    Shit! Someone's broken in!

    Even as that understanding flashed across his brain and he went to pause, there was an irresistible shove from behind him. Stumbling into the kitchen, then across into the living room, he became aware that his favourite chair had been moved to face the door and was sitting directly under the glare of his reading lamp. People were standing around the room in the shadows, but his attention was drawn—deliberately, he knew—to the man seated in his chair, playing with a stiletto.

    "Good afternoon, Mr. Hebert," said Jack Slash. "Come on in. Sit down." Light reflected off the blade as he spun it in his hand. "Let's talk about your daughter."



    Over the years, Jack Slash had confronted a great many people with the fact of their own mortality (and introduced a majority of these to the concept first-hand, as it were) so he considered himself somewhat of an expert in how people reacted when they first realised they were in life-threatening danger.

    Flight was the most common reaction, and some had even succeeded (though far fewer since he'd brought the Siberian into the Nine).

    While fight was less common, some still tried it, on the bloody-minded sentiment of 'taking you with me'. Nobody had quite succeeded, though some had come close.

    Freeze was another that cropped up more often than he would've thought; unfortunately for those people, he had excellent eyesight.

    Once in a blue moon, he got a fawn reaction, which still confused him. He was there for victims, not groupies; when would people learn this?

    Flop, on the other hand, was one he kind of understood. When faced with overwhelming danger, their brains just ... checked out. Lights were on, nobody home. They still died, of course, but it was less satisfying.

    Danny Hebert wasn't a cape, which cut down the chances of a fight response (not totally; some people had surprised him in the past). He wasn't freezing or flopping, and after one swift glance backward into the merciless eyes of the Siberian it was clear flight was not a viable option. Slowly, Hebert took one more step into the room, put down the shopping bags, and folded his arms. From his attitude, 'fawn' was off the table too.

    So what was he doing? What did he hope to gain from this pointless show of defiance?

    "What about my daughter?" Hebert asked.

    Ah, of course. He thinks he's protecting her.

    Jack Slash smiled. "You know, you might've almost had me fooled, there. Union man, right? You don't give away anything you don't have to. The trouble is, in this situation, you've got nothing. No leverage. There's nothing you've got that I want. I already know Taylor is the cape known as Wyvern. She turns into a fire-breathing dragon, and she's joined that pack of idiots that call themselves New Wave."

    Hebert might have let out a tiny sigh, but his shoulders didn't slump with the despair Jack knew he had to be feeling. "You're lying. You want something from me, or we wouldn't be talking like this."

    "Well, true," Jack conceded. "But I'm not lying, either. What I want from you is the look on your face just before she murders you and joins the Nine, and I'm reasonably certain you're not going to give that to me of your own free will." He gestured, and Bonesaw released one of her little cyber-spiders; it scuttled across the carpet then scrambled up Hebert's pants leg. "Don't try to brush it off," he warned. "Even I don't know what sort of pathogen Bonesaw loads those things with, but they're all very quickly and very painfully lethal."

    Hebert held still, which told Jack that the man wanted to live. That, at least, gave him some leverage to work with. It was the ones who'd decided they had nothing left to live for that caused the most trouble.

    "Good," Hebert said as the spider settled down at the base of his neck. "Now I know what I'll be shoving up your ass, first chance I get."

    Jack sighed, suddenly tiring of the pissing contest. "Spare me the pointless bravado, if you will. I've met a hundred men who promised they'd show me a 'real fight' if it were just me and them. I gave them the chance. They're all dead, and I'm still here."

    Hebert shook his head and snorted. "Yeah, right. Like you'd give anyone a fair fight."

    The blade in Jack's hand snapped around to point at the taller man. "I'm trying to be polite here, but you're not making it easy. Got anything to back that up?"

    "Yeah." Hebert's voice was quiet but firm. "About ten or eleven years ago, I was working in the office at the Dockworkers Association when in walks Marquis, bold as brass. Comes up to the counter and asks to see the man in charge. That would've been old Doug Smythe, at the time. Marquis made the offer to sell protection to the Association, in return for a cut of the profits. Doug turned him down flat. His precise words were, We're not interested. Marquis nodded and walked out. About a month later, Doug was working back late and some guys broke in to look for money. He got shot in the shoulder and ended up in the hospital."

    "Serves him right," Jack said. "He should've taken the protection. I presume Marquis was in the next day with an offer at double the cost?"

    "Well, no," Danny said. "I never believed Marquis set it up. I'm pretty sure Doug didn't think so either. A month after, Doug was back in the office with his arm in a sling, and Marquis walked in again. Doug looked him in the eye and said, I believe I said we weren't interested. Marquis nodded and walked back out. Two months later, he was captured by the Brockton Bay Brigade."

    "A pretty story," Jack sneered. "What's your point?"

    "Thing with Marquis was, he didn't screw around. He didn't have to posture or bother with strongarm tactics. Everyone knew if you crossed him, you were toast. But he was dependable. I have no doubt in my mind, if we'd taken his protection, we'd have gotten value for money." Hebert lifted his chin and stared at Jack. "But the word on the street is, you rewrite the rules anytime you feel like it. That's why Marquis kicked you out of Brockton Bay. And even nine versus one, you were scared of going into a fair fight against him. If we paid you for protection, you'd be just as likely to turn around and rob us for the fun of it. And that's how I know your 'fair fights' were anything but."

    Jack fumed, but he couldn't actually point at anything Hebert had said that was specifically untrue. Yes, he'd taken the remains of the Nine and left Brockton Bay; not specifically because Marquis wanted him gone, but it had made the decision much easier. And yes, he was a free spirit, unbound by societal norms. The Nine did not bow and scrape to anyone, even if there was money involved. If someone was stupid enough to pay them to do a job, they'd do it, then they'd show those people that the Nine couldn't be bought.

    But the way Hebert had described it made him and the Nine sound downright grubby, and that couldn't be right. It was just biased reporting, that was all.

    "Bring him," he said, getting up out of the chair. "We've got places to be."

    Shatterbird snapped shackles of glass onto Hebert as she moved past him. "Come on, you." Lifted and moved by the solid bands of crystalline material, he had no choice but to follow along. Almost as an afterthought, another one closed over his mouth as a gag.

    Jack glanced around the house once more as he reached the back door, then smiled cruelly. "Burnscar, do your thing."

    Talk back to me, will he?

    As they reached the RV, parked some distance down the street (where Crawler was waiting more than a little impatiently) the flames were already climbing into the evening sky.



    "Halt, evildoers!" Vicky flared her aura and dropped down into the alley like an avenging angel. Two of the muggers left their victim and bolted, while the third one pulled a Saturday Night Special and shakily aimed it at her.

    "Back off!" he shouted. "I'll shoot!"

    Up on top of the roof to the left, Eric mouthed, Halt, evildoers? to his sister. At the same time, he stealthily put a transparent shield around the mugging victim, who was shakily getting to his feet.

    Crystal, standing across the alley from him, shrugged. "Maybe she just likes saying it?"

    That was actually a pretty good reason, but Vicky wasn't the one they were there to keep an eye on. Eric turned his head to check on Wyvern, just as she dropped into position at the end of the alleyway. With her wings spread and her mouth open to show all the teeth, she was plenty intimidating. The tiny fireball she spat which exploded about six feet in front of the muggers and set a trash can on fire absolutely sold it, so much so that they backpedalled and fell on their asses.

    "Okay," Eric said about two minutes later as they finished securing the muggers for police pickup. "Just saying, we need to start bringing cameras along on patrols like this. Wyvern could have her own Youtube channel. That was amazing."

    Wyvern sheepishly looked at the trash can, but Crystal put a hand on her wing. "Hey, something like that's nothing. Eric put it out in ten seconds with a field to cut off its air. Now, if Vicky could stop breaking their hands, that would be great."

    "What?" Vicky held her hands out, palm up. "He wouldn't drop the gun or stop shooting at me. Ricochets are a thing. I thought I'd bat it out of his hand. It's not my fault he's got brittle hand bones or something."

    "Compared to you, everyone's got … wait." Crystal put her hand to her ear, where her radio earpiece was. "What's that, Mom? A fire? Well, we're kind of good against fires. Where … what did you say?"

    "What?" asked Eric. "Where's the fire, and why's it so important they'd call us in? People trapped inside?"

    Crystal's eyes focused again, and she looked at Wyvern. "It's … it's your dad's house. Mom said the fire brigade's been called."

    Immediately, Wyvern let out a panicked screech and took to the air, wings beating strongly.

    "Shit." Eric and Crystal said it at the same time and took off after her.

    Before they caught up, however, Vicky arrowed past the both of them. "Wyvern!" she called as she got close to the frantically flying dragon. There was no response, so she got closer and lowered her voice a touch. "Taylor!"

    This time Wyvern glanced at her but continued to fly strongly onward. She let out a screech which managed to get her sense of urgency across just fine, despite the lack of words. I have to make sure Dad's okay.

    "I'll carry you, like I did the last time," Vicky said, then looked around. "Eric, can you give us an aerodynamic force field?"

    "Sure as hell can," Eric said, flying up alongside Vicky. Divining his intention—there were some benefits to having worked with each other for years, the downside being having Crystal as a sister—Crystal flew up on her other side. Concentrating his power, Eric formed a spearhead around them, sharp point forward.

    At the same time, Wyvern furled her wings, and Vicky wrapped her arms around the red-and-gold pinions and body. "Hang on," she said grimly, and accelerated hard.

    End of Part Nineteen
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2021
  20. Threadmarks: Part Twenty: The Dreaded Slaughterhouse Arc (2) - Farewell, Seven of Nine

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Part Twenty: The Dreaded Slaughterhouse Arc (2) – Farewell, Seven of Nine

    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]


    The trip across town was the fastest I'd ever made it, and it was still far too slow. As soon as we were over my house, Eric dissipated the force field and Vicky let me go. We flew down toward the inferno that had once been my home, while I anxiously scanned the gathered crowd for Dad.

    He wasn't there. Even the ambulance crews were just standing around waiting for business while the fire crew directed streams of water into the house.

    As the rest of us landed in an unoccupied section of lawn, Vicky took point. She flew over to one of the guys directing matters and touched down in front of him. "Hi, we thought we'd come and help out," she said. "Everyone make it out?"

    The fire chief (at least, that's who I thought it was) shook his head. "Nobody got out before we got here, and by then it was too far gone to go in."

    No! Dad! I stared at the flames leaping from the windows and took a deep breath. Fire didn't hurt me, and Dad might be in there somewhere, hoping for rescue.

    Then Eric whipped past me, force field flaring into life around him. He punched clear through the still-closed front door and vanished. I went to follow him in, but Vicky stepped in front of me and put her arms around my neck. I could feel her strength preventing me from moving forward.

    "Easy, easy. They're trained in clearing houses," she said in an undertone meant only for my ears. "Eric will be able to find your dad and get him out." If he's still alive, she meant.

    It didn't stop me from desperately wishing I could try to save him anyway. I watched with ever-mounting despair, my clawed feet tearing up the grass and soil that I was standing on.

    "Easy," Vicky murmured again. "Easy."

    My head came up as I heard a grinding creak that seemed to resonate through my very bones. "It's going!" shouted one of the fire responders.

    "Shit, Eric's still in there," muttered Crystal. She began to power up her forcefield. "If it comes down with him inside—"

    Two things happened at once. Eric shot out of the roaring furnace in a dramatic shower of sparks, cradling something in his arms. Literally seconds later, the entire structure went down like a house of cards in a stray breeze, only faster. The fire chief shouted orders to turn the hoses on the surrounding houses, to ensure no secondary blazes started, as Eric landed in front of Vicky and me.

    I felt a puff of hot air as he dropped his force field. He was sweating like crazy and holding something wrapped in a blanket. Illogically, I felt a wild hope, even though I could see it was far too small to be Dad. Vicky let me go and I let out an enquiring chirp as I nodded toward the bundle.

    "Searched the basement and the upstairs bedrooms and bathroom," he said in answer to my unspoken query. "He wasn't anywhere inside, under the beds, in the closets, anywhere. Only thing that wasn't on fire was this." Folding back a corner of the scorched blanket, he showed me the photo album Dad had kept in his bedroom, the one that held all the photos of Mom. "Figured you might want it."

    Stepping forward, I wrapped my wings around him in my best approximation of a hug. My chirp this time meant Thank you, but worry still plagued my mind. Where's Dad? What's happened to him?

    "You're welcome," he said awkwardly. "We'll, uh, we'll just hold on to this."

    "So if her dad isn't in there," said Vicky, "where is he? He should've been home by now."

    "I saw what might've been grocery bags on the floor in the living room," Eric offered. "And the back door was swinging open, with keys in the lock. So he got home, then something … happened."

    "Yeah, but what?" asked Crystal. "And how did the house catch fire?"

    "And if the back door was open, why didn't he get out?" added Vicky.

    "Well, he clearly did, but where did he go then?" That was Eric.

    Crystal shook her head. "And without his car?" She pointed at Dad's car; some brave soul had smashed the driver's side window and let off the handbrake, and they'd pushed it partway out onto the street to get it away from the burning house. "The keys were right there. Why didn't he take it?"

    I shook my head. Nonverbal as I was, I couldn't contribute to the discussion, and worry was clouding my mind too much for me to think ahead and make coherent conclusions. There were too many questions, with no answers forthcoming. Worse, I had a weird buzz in my ears that made it hard to concentrate.

    That was when something tapped me on the ankle.

    Twisting my neck around, I looked down. There was a shifting, liquid pool of glass on the ground next to my clawed foot, and as I watched, it extended a pseudopod and tapped me again. This wasn't the weirdest thing I'd ever seen, but it was definitely up there. Lowering my head to peer at it more closely, I let out an enquiring chirp.

    As if triggered by the sound, the glass started forming words.


    It paused then, awaiting my reply.

    I looked up and around, then over at the others. They were busily discussing the matter of my father's disappearance among themselves. Looking back toward the blob of glass, I nodded and chirped again, trying to keep control of the rising tide of anger within me. Whoever 'we' are, you're going to regret this.

    It seemed the glass controller could see my movements and maybe hear my voice but could not register my emotions. The blob changed again, showing more words. And now that I was paying attention, the buzz changed tone very slightly.


    Well, that was absolutely clear-cut and impossible to mistake for anything other than a threat. My anger mounted until the flame danced in the back of my throat. It was a distinct effort to hold back from deluging fire over the glass letters on the ground.

    Lifting my head, I looked around again. As I did so, I concentrated on the almost subliminal buzzing. I could almost feel it shifting in frequency as my head turned one way then the other.

    I had to do this. I had to go. Dad and whoever else they had were depending on me.

    But that didn't mean I had to play into this asshole's hostage fantasy.

    Correction: this dead asshole.

    I was sick and tired of people thinking they could get leverage over me by threatening my father.

    This ends tonight.


    Glory Girl

    The first thing Vicky knew of something else going wrong was when Wyvern detonated one of her explosive fireballs on the ground directly under herself, launching her into the air in what seemed like a deliberate move. Fortunately, nobody had been close enough to take harm from the explosion, though the grass had been scorched to ash in a wide circle. That wasn't her biggest concern, though.

    The biggest concern was that Taylor was flying away at a high rate of knots, leaving the rest of them behind.

    "Where's she going?" shouted Crystal, as they scrambled into the air to catch up with her.

    "I dunno," Vicky replied, forging ahead. "Soon as I grab her, I'll be sure to ask."

    "Just be careful," Eric supplied, gamely trying to keep up. "She looks pissed."

    "Pfft, what's she gonna do?" asked Vicky. "She knows she can't hurt me."

    Half a second later, a fireball exploded in her face.

    The heat and kinetic force didn't so much as muss her hair, but the blinding flash surprised the fuck out of her, dazzling her and sending her tumbling through the air. "What the shit?" she blurted, trying to rub the dancing spots out of her eyes. When she could see again, Wyvern was no longer in view. "Oh, that's just not fair."

    As she hovered there in mid-air, Crystal and Eric caught up with her. "She let off half a dozen in a row," Crystal explained. She pointed out where clouds of smoke, underlit by the city glow, were wafting away under a gentle breeze. "While we were eyes-off, she must have either dived for surface clutter or gone for altitude. And unless she gets between us and the moon, we're never gonna see her either way."

    "Okay, just what the fuck is going on here?" Vicky flung her arms out. "Why'd she even do this? We're her friends! Her teammates! Why would she fly off the handle like this?"

    "Uh … maybe she just wanted to be left alone?" Eric shrugged. "I mean, right now she's gotta be under some serious stress."

    "Yeah, but where's she gonna go?" Crystal raked her hands through her hair. "Vicky, what'd she do the last time she was this upset?"

    "Uh …" Vicky tried to think. "Told Armsmaster to fuck off and then went and hid in our garage?"

    Crystal nodded firmly. "Okay, you go check there. Eric and me will go back to her house and make sure nobody got hurt."

    "Okay, right." Vicky grimaced and tapped the phone in its pouch on her belt. "Let me know if anything turns up."

    "Sure thing, and same to you. Come on, Eric." Crystal turned in midair and started back toward the fading glow in the sky that signalled the demise of the Hebert house.

    Vicky looked around to get her bearings then started off toward home, almost certain she was missing a trick but not sure what it was.

    Taylor, what's going on?



    Waiting atop the pretentiously named Captain's Hill, Jack Slash smiled in smug satisfaction as Shatterbird flew into view and landed alongside him. "She took the bait?" He already knew the answer, but he liked it when other people admitted how smart he was.

    "Hook, line and sinker," she confirmed. "The New Wave kids tried to catch up with her, but she used those explosive fireballs like flashbangs and evaded them cleanly. For a rookie, it was actually pretty impressive."

    "Good, so there's no chance she worked out some scheme with them before coming?" Again, he was certain he knew the answer, but it was always satisfying when a plan came together.

    "Well, she's nonverbal, and she didn't even get their attention before she took off, so I'd say that's a solid no." She tilted her head. "Pretty sure that's her now."

    "Excellent." For some reason, he felt the urge to steeple his fingers and leer over them, but it passed. "Let the event commence. Burnscar, if you will?"



    There were definitely people on top of Captain's Hill, clustered around the statue of Captain Lord, but my improved night-sight (I refused to call it 'dragonsight') couldn't distinguish between them, until a row of torches burst into flame one after the other. Then I saw what was going on.

    Dad was there, kneeling on the rough gravel, with Kurt and Lacey next to him. Beside Lacey was Alan Barnes, and then Emma. Kurt's face was bruised, like he'd been roughed up a little, and Emma's features were blotchy, like she'd been crying. Lacey just looked pissed. I could just barely see something crouching on their necks, long mechanical legs clutching their shoulders and extending down their arms and over their heads.

    "Good evening, Wyvern," announced an altogether too-familiar figure as he stepped out of the shadows and into the torchlight. I'd known he was there, but not who he was. Now I knew that, too. "Or should I say, Taylor Hebert. Oh, yes. I know who you are. I know a great deal about you." Jack Slash smiled predatorially, his too-white teeth gleaming in counterpoint to the blade that flickered through his fingers in the firelight.

    I came to a hover, my rage almost boiling over. How dare this little man threaten my father and his friends, all because he had a bunch of supervillains to hide behind! Just barely, I managed to force myself to voice an enquiring chirp.

    "Ah, yes. Non-verbal." He hmphed and lifted his chin. "I do so like it when they beg for all to hear. Oh well, no bother. I will translate. What do you want from me, I believe you asked. Well, it's simple. You, in the Nine. I believe you will make an absolutely marvellous part of the group."

    Still hovering, I shook my head and voiced a defiant squawk. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

    Jack Slash raised his eyebrows, sounding quite amused. "Language, language. If my Bonesaw could understand that, she would be quite miffed with you. No, you see, it's quite simple. You see before you five hostages. I will be—"

    That was it. I couldn't take it any longer. My anger burst forth, and I let out a roaring torrent of flame at him. Threaten my dad, will you!

    A shield of glass interposed itself between myself and the gang leader, splashing the flame harmlessly in all directions. I switched up, flying forward with an explosive fireball leading the way, aiming to smash through the shield and get to Jack Slash before anyone else could interfere. With him in my jaws, I'd have the Nine at my mercy, and I could get them to release Dad and the others.

    It wasn't the most intricate of plans, or the most well thought out, but I wasn't exactly thinking straight right at that moment.

    So, of course, nothing could go wrong.


    Emma Barnes

    The latest member of New Wave had made the news weeks before, so Emma knew all about it. She'd admired the dragon (or wyvern, as New Wave insisted on calling it) for its power and strength, and giggled over the footage showing it cursing out Armsmaster. But now it was facing the Nine, all alone, almost incandescent in its frustrated rage … and that was Taylor.

    Emma didn't know whether to be more scared of the Nine right then, or of her one-time friend. They would kill her if Taylor acted up … but Taylor might kill her afterwards anyway. She didn't often admit to making mistakes—that sort of thing happened to other people—but right now, she was beginning to consider the idea that shoving Taylor into the locker and then continuing to tease her afterward might have been a possible error in judgement.

    As Jack Slash continued with his smug monologue, Taylor—no, Wyvern—lost her temper and shot flame at him. Emma tensed, expecting to see him immolated, but Shatterbird sent a sheet of glass up to protect him. When her first attack didn't work, she flew forward with another burst of flame; it hit the glass sheet and exploded, but that was just a decoy. Demonstrating some of the agility she'd shown on the news, Wyvern twisted and flew up and over the disintegrating shield.

    Which promptly reformed and locked around her body and wings. Emma winced as she felt the impact Wyvern's dragon body made when it hit the rocky ground, down the slope a little way. Jack Slash tried to say something, but Wyvern's outraged screech drowned him out. Shedding shards of glass and at least twice as large as before, Wyvern came flapping up out of the darkness, eyes blazing and teeth bared in fury.

    There was a rumble of heavy footsteps, then Crawler launched himself out of the darkness, smashing into Wyvern's body like a battering ram. They hit the rocky slope again, tumbling over and over in the darkness. Emma could hear Wyvern screeching and Crawler roaring in several tones at once.

    The last rock slid to a halt. Silence fell. Emma waited for Wyvern to emerge from the darkness once more, like a phoenix triumphant. But instead, heavy plodding footsteps came up the side of the hill, until Wyvern's battered body was tossed unceremoniously into the pool of firelight.

    She was a little larger than before, but her glorious red and gold scales had been badly seared by acid, which had also burned large holes in her wing membranes. She was still alive, still conscious, still trying to move and attack despite a missing eye, a broken jaw and several other clearly broken bones, some of which were protruding through her skin.

    A delicately built girl with long dark hair bearing a single red streak stepped forward. "Come on," she said softly. "Go to sleep, little dragon. Go to sleep."

    Although Wyvern clearly didn't want to, her one good eye drifted shut. She shrank, the scales fading away and her hair returning, until Taylor Hebert lay face down on the gravel of the parking lot. And then her eyes (both of them) snapped open, she looked around, and just like that, Wyvern was back, fully healed and the smaller size again. One second a scrawny girl, the next a red and gold scaled dragon. If Emma had blinked, she would've missed it.

    Crawler shifted his position, putting one foot in the middle of Wyvern's back and the other on her muzzle, almost certainly to prevent her from breathing fire. Then, and only then, did Jack Slash step forward again.

    "Well, that was both impressive and educational," the bearded man mused, strolling up to where Crawler held Wyvern pinned to the ground. "Let's try that again, shall we? Cage that beast a little, girl, or you will lose someone you care for."



    I stared up at Jack Slash, wishing I could do more than growl past the heavy foot holding my mouth closed. If I were free … but I wasn't. And so, I couldn't afford to let the wyvern take full control like that again. I blinked at him twice, then twice again, trying to convey 'yes'.

    Not that I intended to cooperate with him in the slightest. But I had to play this to my strengths, not his.

    "Good," he said smoothly. "Now, shall we continue? As I was saying, we have five hostages here, two of whom you'd probably rather see dead. This is how it's going to go. Shatterbird, Crawler, Burnscar and Cherish have all expressed an interest in turning you into a quivering wreck. Bonesaw holds the lives of your hostages in her hand, and Siberian is here to ensure that you don't turn yours truly into a charcoal briquette. Are you understanding the situation so far?"

    I gave him another series of blinks.

    "Good. So, we'll go round by round. For each round, you either dispose of one of our hostages or my charming friends beat you to a pulp and I take something from you. Perhaps a finger, perhaps an eye. But I've decided to be nice and give you a couple of freebies for the first two rounds. It'll be no hardship at all for you to finally put these two out of your misery, will it?"

    His gesture encompassed Alan and Emma Barnes, and I had to admire the evil genius of the man. Just for a moment, I was indeed tempted to murder them and blame it on Jack Slash. He knew me, knew what I wanted.

    But he didn't own me, and never would. I was better than him. I was better than them. And more importantly, I knew something he didn't. But I didn't dare even think about it, because he'd shown an uncanny level of understanding of my thought processes so far, and I didn't wish to lose out to a scumbag like him at this point in the game.

    I shook my head as best I could, and swung my eyes toward where I could see Shatterbird at the edge of the torchlight. To make my point, I sent a thin stream of flame out of my nostril toward her.

    "Well, then." Jack clapped his hands together cheerfully. "If you want to do this the hard way, we can do it the hard way." He stepped back toward where the Siberian waited with Bonesaw. As she laid her hand on him, his colouration went from normal to black and white. He was protected, I knew.

    Crawler took his feet off me and stepped back, allowing me to get to my feet and shake out my wings. I had one chance to get this right, or people would die. Rather; the wrong people would die. So from here on in, I could not lose.

    Shatterbird took to the air, shards of glass orbiting her, while her wings spread wide, firelight twinkling off them. She had her weapons with her, ready to use on me. I'd seen how fast she was, how effective. I knew I could be beaten by her, and that was my advantage.

    She didn't know she could be beaten by me, so she didn't know how to plan against it.

    With a screech of defiance, I took off straight up, my wings undoubtedly sending a billow of dust everywhere. But I wasn't concentrating on that. I was reaching into the depths of my being to where the wyvern resided, and pushing it hard to respond to the perceived threat. At my normal size, I couldn't beat Shatterbird; she could immobilise my wings and bring me down at any time.

    I breathed deeply, inhaling the chilly night air, feeling my ribcage expand … and expand … and expand. By the time Shatterbird realised something was wrong, I was halfway to her and more than twice my normal size. And then, just as her glass started toward me, I backwinged and pulled the same trick I had on Vicky that one time. A little bit of flame and a huge volume of smoke erupted from my nostrils, engulfing her altogether.

    Coughing, she tried to fly out of the plume of smoke and evade me, but the buzzing in my ears led me straight to her. Her eyes widened and she threw up a glass shield against my flame. I didn't care. My head was the size of a small car by then, and when I closed my jaws around her the glass crunched like candy. She didn't crunch so much as squish.

    I breathed fire, through my half-closed mouth. She didn't even have time to scream.

    Spitting out the charred body and the bits of glass, I wheeled tightly on one wingtip and dived. One down, still winning.

    A feeling of lethargy invaded my thoughts, as it had done before. The little tiny bit of me that just didn't want to fight was blown out of all proportion, almost forcing me to Change again. I felt myself reducing in size, and tried to push back, but Cherish's power was too strong for me to fight against.

    So I didn't. I surrendered to her, and gave the wyvern full control over our shared body. Before, it had been an instinctive action; now, it was a winning strategy. As I watched, uncaring and wanting to just let the world go away, the wyvern spat out a single actinic stream of cutting flame. It had served to slice Inago's wing clear off his body. Here, it removed Cherish's head from her body, by way of vaporising it. As the headless corpse collapsed, the suppression of my natural anger vanished, and I surged back into the driver's seat. Thanks, I'll take it from here.



    With Shatterbird down, and Cherish removed from the field mere seconds later, Jack stared up at the descending dragon. All his instincts were shouting that she wouldn't be stopped by mere threats this time. "Burnscar!"

    "On it!" Hand flaring with flame, Burnscar stepped out in front of the hostages. Jack watched her call the torch flames to her, swirling them in a complex pattern. "Hey, Wyvern!" she shouted. "Back off!"

    Wyvern kept coming, mouth opening and teeth showing. Jack began to wonder if she was even capable of comprehending human speech anymore. Burnscar took the initiative, directing the flames down at Danny Hebert's left hand. In an instant, it was seared to the bone. He screamed, loud and long.

    With a great gust of wind that would've put out the torches if Burnscar's power had not kept them alight, Wyvern backwinged to a halt in mid-air. "DAD!" she bellowed, in a deep and gravelly voice. "LEAVE HIM ALONE, YOU BITCH!"

    "Language!" chided Bonesaw. "Mr. Jack, tell her not to swear!"

    Burnscar cupped Hebert's head in her hands. He couldn't do anything about this, as he was still locked into the glass shackles Shatterbird had formed onto him. "Come down here and Change back, or I boil his brain in his skull!"

    Still the dragon hovered there, great wings thrashing the air, anguish clear even on its inhuman muzzle. "Three!" shouted Burnscar. "Two!"

    Wyvern shimmered, changing not so much size as shape. When her form stabilised, she was longer, leaner, and her colouration had changed utterly. Where before she'd been covered in red and gold scales, now she was ice-blue with black highlights. "One," she purred in a thunderous hissing whisper that was totally unlike her previous fifty-packs-a-day rasp, and inhaled.

    Every flame went out, all pouring across the gap to where Wyvern hovered and disappearing into her flared nostrils. The temperature in the air dropped precipitously, frost forming on every surface. Her mouth opened, and she seemed to cough; ice shards shot out in a spray.

    Burnscar yelped with terror and leaped away from Danny Hebert, forming a burst of flame with one hand and shooting another high into the air. She dived into the one before her and vanished. Far above, another one was formed, the fleeing form of Burnscar jumping from one to the other.

    Wyvern turned her head fractionally, tracking, then spat out a burst of something that would've been flame, except that it was blue and sucked heat out of the air as it rocketed upward. There was another flare of fire above, and another … and then the blue bolt hit. The fire ceased to be.

    Jack stared at Wyvern. I did not see that coming. "Poppet, since when can she breathe cold?"

    "Uh, Mr. Jack," ventured Bonesaw. "I think I know what's happening, and it's a bad thing."

    We've just lost three of our members. No shit it's a bad thing. "Yes?"

    "Her, uh, power? Each time she's under stress when she's using her powers, it … uh, it puts her through a mini-Trigger. And I think she gets to keep all the previous iterations."

    Jack blinked. "Powers don't work like that. Do powers work like that?"

    Bonesaw shrugged. "Hers does?"

    There was a crash and a shattering sound as Burnscar landed, her frozen corpse smashing like a Ming vase on a concrete floor. Wyvern turned her burning blue gaze on him. "I am going to—"

    "Woo hoo!" Crawler bolted out of the darkness again and launched himself at her. "Round two, beeyatch! Come to papa!"

    Jack breathed out again as they disappeared into the darkness. "Okay, once he breaks her down to size, I'm just going to have him kill her," he decided. "She's unmanageable. Too many variables." He waved his hand at where the hostages were. "Go ahead, kill the hostages. We don't need them anymore."

    "Uh … Mr. Jack …"

    He was beginning to detest that tone in her. "What?"

    "The spiders I had on them are all dead. She killed them."

    "What? When?" She hadn't even gotten close to the hostages.

    "I don't know, Mr. Jack." Bonesaw sounded worried, and he didn't blame her. "Want me to send another spider to kill them now?"

    "Yes. Do that." No matter what else, Wyvern would not win.

    There was a scuttling sound in the darkness. Bonesaw cleared her throat. "Uh … the hostages … they're not there?"



    Danny Hebert

    "Come on, while they're distracted." Danny's left hand felt like one huge lump of ice, but it was better than the alternative.

    He'd already wrenched off the cyber-spider that had been attached to the back of his neck, after it went limp. The cause of its demise was obvious; a high-velocity shard of ice had punched through its outer carapace, killing it instantly. Another had struck the glass bonds that were holding him prisoner, shattering them.

    Each of the other hostages had been freed in a similar fashion, which made him wonder exactly how accurate Taylor was with those things. Also, where had that form even come from?

    Escape now, power analysis later. "Come on," he whispered again as they sneaked down the road.

    "You okay, man?" Kurt's voice rumbled quietly in the darkness.

    "Better than Burnscar."

    "Ain't that the truth."

    And then the light flared in front of them.



    Fighting Crawler was no picnic at the best of times. The first go-around, I'd already had my ass kicked by Shatterbird, and I was on the back foot. This time, I knew what I was facing. I found I could neutralise his acid with my cold-breath, and in fact I could break chunks off him by freezing them first.

    But that tactic worked less and less, and soon he was using my cold-breath against me. Not that it did much, but it got annoying. Worse, he was beginning to overpower me, now that I couldn't simply destroy parts of his body. We hit an outcrop and smashed it, but it knocked the wind out of my body. He loomed over me, drooling yet more acid. This stuff was resistant to being frozen, and actually stung quite a bit.

    I rolled over, managing to throw him off. Too late, I saw a small van in an out of the way parking spot, halfway up the hill. For a moment, I thought it might be abandoned, but then I spotted a face watching us through the windshield. "Watch out!" I bellowed. But it was too late. Crawler landed square on it, crushing it flat. God damn it, I groaned. I'd face the music for that later.

    Crawler smashed me across the face with one of his front legs, and my head hit another rock. The world blurred; when it came back, I was looking down at him. My night sight (okay, fine, dragonvision) was much better now, and I saw my colouration had gone back to red and gold. "Come on!" he roared, launching himself at me, despite being somewhat smaller than me.

    Opening my jaws wide—he was about the same size as my head—I caught him up in my mouth and bit down, hard. My teeth sheared into his flesh, and he let out an insane cackle. "Yeah! Yeah!"

    He was already changing, adapting, to what I was doing to him. I felt myself shifting and changing in response; going with the wyvern's instincts, I tilted my head back and opened my gullet wide. He scrabbled briefly as he went down my throat, then I swallowed. It was painful at first, but then my body shimmered again and it wasn't.

    But even that wasn't the end of it.

    Crawler fought back, trying his best to tear his way out of me in a bizarre parody of that movie about the aliens. My stomach moved and bulged oddly, and I had the horrible feeling that I wouldn't be able to Change back until I had this sorted. The wyvern heard me, and I Changed again. This time, Crawler was weaker. It took two more Changes before he was totally quiescent. Whatever passed for stomach acids in this version of me had finally dealt with the unkillable cape.

    Unfurling my wings—and by now they were huge—I flew up and landed at the top of Captain's Hill again. Jack and Bonesaw were just boarding the RV they'd come here in. I stomped on the front end of the vehicle, crushing it flat. "Going somewhere?"

    Yeah, I was that big.

    Jack Slash stared up at me. "What are you?" he demanded. "What did you do with Crawler?"

    I didn't have an answer for the first question, but I definitely had one for the second one. Opening my jaws, I let out a deep, rolling thunderous belch that echoed across Brockton Bay. "He was delicious." It was a lie, but it was a badass lie.

    "Rude," complained Bonesaw. "Gross."

    "Okay, just going to say, you can't touch me or my little poppet, because Siberian will fillet you if you try." Jack hooked his thumb over his shoulder as he spoke. Except that … both he and the girl should have been currently coloured in shades of gray. They weren't.

    I breathed in through my nostrils, taking up their scents, wondering exactly where the Siberian was. Jack's scent was … interesting. He'd been cocky and confident earlier. Now … he was terrified, but putting up a good front. The Siberian must've decided to cut her losses and leave him hanging out to dry.

    "Who?" I grinned, each of my teeth longer than he was tall.

    "I'm full of pathogens," Bonesaw said defiantly. "Kill me and they'll spread far and wide. You'll kill America."

    "Funny thing, that," I mused. "It took a lot to kill Crawler. I'm pretty sure that right now, my internals negate matter on a subatomic level. I wonder how that would go against your pathogens. Made of matter, aren't they?"

    "Wait, wait," Jack said, holding his hands up. "Don't I get any last words?"

    "No." I was sick of his face, sick of his voice and sick of his smug condescension. It took just one breath to disintegrate the back half of the RV, Bonesaw and her pathogens and Jack Slash himself. Also, about fifty cubic yards of parking lot in a shallow crater. I was going to have to work on my precision.

    And then light sprang into existence beside me. I looked over and down, to see Lady Photon hovering in mid-air, holding her hand up like a floodlight. "Taylor?" she asked. I wasn't totally surprised at how doubtful she sounded. My head was now twice the size of a city bus.

    "Yeah. I think so. I see you found my message." When I'd used the explosive fireball to launch myself skyward, it had also ashed all the grass and dirt directly under it … except the bits covered by the glass, forming words. When they finally got around to examining the scene, they would've found a signpost telling them exactly where I'd gone; also, why.

    "Yes, we did. Sorry it took us so long. Did you just … finish the Nine?"

    "They started it. What about Dad and the others?"

    "We've got them. Amelia is healing your father's hand as we speak. How … how did you get so big?"

    "Lots of Crawler in my diet, I guess."

    She choked out a laugh. "Uh, how do you feel about that?"

    "There was quite a bit of heartburn involved, but I got over it." I looked down at myself. "Pretty sure I can't fit in the garage anymore."

    This time, her laughter was more genuine. "What about the Siberian? How did you deal with her?"

    I shrugged, not unlike the movement of tectonic plates. "No idea. I suspect when she saw them losing, she dumped the team and ran."

    "Right." She flew around in front of me and held up what I recognised as the extravagantly fluffy bathrobe that Vicky had more or less gifted me with after the Armsmaster incident. "Well, when you feel like downsizing, I'll be right here for you."

    "Thanks." I silently consulted the wyvern. It felt kind of tired. "I figure it won't be long before I'm human again. Anyway, I've got court in the morning."

    She nodded. "Think the Barneses might want to change their plea after this?"

    I chuckled; already, I could feel the size Change coming on. "Maybe."

    Personally, I was ready for bed. It had been a long, long night.

    End of Part Twenty
  21. Xyshuryn

    Xyshuryn Holder of Hands

    Oct 17, 2018
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    Clearly Jack never read much fantasy about intelligent dragons/wyverns and stealing from them. Or rather the countless warnings to not do it. Stealing Danny? Peace was never an option.
  22. TriedgeThePK

    TriedgeThePK My arm is tired.

    Nov 4, 2019
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    Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste great with ketchup.
  23. steamrick

    steamrick Matter: protons, electrons, neutrons and morons

    Aug 29, 2014
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    Hmm... thanks for double posting and sparing us the cliffhanger.
  24. Robert Stadler

    Robert Stadler Getting sticky.

    Jun 29, 2020
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    So, about court procedure...

    First, I assume that the proceeding against Emma is a criminal case. In a criminal case, there is no plaintiff, but rather a prosecutor. The offense is not against the victims, but against the state.

    Second, I don't know what sort of hearing this is intended to be, but generally the defendants and witnesses won't be together in front of a judge until the actual trial. This typically takes months, not weeks.

    Third, the judge does not generally directly ask questions of witnesses (and will almost never ask questions of the father of a defendant who is represented by counsel). A witness would first take the witness stand and be sworn in. Next, if it's a prosecution witness, the prosecutor will ask questions. Once this direct examination is over, the defense attorney may ask questions. In this example, where the key piece of evidence is an audio recording, the witness would likely be the audio technician who examined it. The judge would not speak as to the authenticity of the recording nor of what the sounds might represent (i.e. the punch to Taylor's stomach). These are facts for the two sides' expert witnesses to testify to and for a jury to decide.

    In the real world, with that kind of evidence against the defendant, most defense attorneys would advise their clients to plea bargain. If the prosecution is unwilling to make a deal (the prosecutors generally would be willing to deal to save the expense of the trial), the defense attorney might well advise their clients to plead guilty anyway, express remorse, and hope for mercy from a judge. It's not completely unreasonable for this case to go to trial, but it's not likely.

    I am not a lawyer, and the procedure may be different for juvenile hearings, but most of this still applies.
  25. Morkail

    Morkail Shado-Master

    Apr 21, 2020
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    So did cauldron kidnap the last member of the nine or what happened there because that projection would of recked her shit if he attacked. The only member of the 9 who could really hurt her never attacked.
    Death by Chains and Ack like this.
  26. Zackarix

    Zackarix Hera's Divorce Lawyer

    Dec 12, 2015
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    Suspension of disbelief broken. No way a court decision takes less then a few weeks, regardless of how clear the outcome is.
  27. Robert Stadler

    Robert Stadler Getting sticky.

    Jun 29, 2020
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    Crawler got tossed into the van, accidentally killing William Manton.
  28. Scopas

    Scopas Not too sore, are you?

    Nov 1, 2018
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    Manton? No. Manton got squished when Crawler fell on his van. That was the face Taylor noticed.

    Also, Danny was a stone cold badass. A union man to the bone!
  29. HereticZAKU

    HereticZAKU [worried ultraman noises]

    Apr 30, 2018
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    Goodbye Jack. You were a piece of shit and no one will ever mourn you!
  30. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    For some unknown reason, this is being fast-tracked ...

    (PRT wants their turn at Sophia).